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Let’s pray. Give us now, O Lord, what we do not have in our natural selves: Love for one another, forgiveness for our offenders, wisdom to understand the times, generosity for the poor, compassion for the needy, heads that know how to show mercy, hearts that love the truth. Grant that we would be submissive to one another out of love. Make us a humble, happy people. Cause us to despair of ourselves, but be ever confident in your righteousness. And now give us ears to hear Your voice speaking to us in Your Scriptures that we might have life and have it abundantly. In Jesus we pray. Amen.
I’ll be reading this morning from John, chapter 10. John, chapter 10, beginning at verse 11 through verse 21. As we come just about to the halfway point through this long, but hopefully fruitful, study in John’s Gospel. This morning John, chapter 10, beginning at verse 11. Hear the Word of the Lord and in particular, these words from Jesus.
“‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may 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 I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.’ There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, ‘He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?’ Others said, ‘These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?'”
Jesus was not and is not for the faint of heart. I hope you can see that in John’s Gospel. Wherever He goes, we find Jesus to be bold and provocative and controversial. He was not a placid, vaguely spiritual, cosmic harmony, religious sort of guru. He made daring and audacious claims about Himself. And some people hated Him for it. Hated Him for it. And some people worshiped Him. Some people thought “He’s the Son of God.” Some people thought “surely He has a demon.” His teaching, His miracles, His self-identification elicited strong reactions from people, especially here we see among the Jews.
He was not the type of person that you could just brush aside and say, “Oh, Jesus, yeah, I’ve heard of him, respect him. Good with kids. Nice guy. Like him.”
No, you either loathed Him as a blasphemer or you were drawn to Him that you might that love Him as your Lord.
One of the chief ways I hope pray throughout this book that God uses these sermons from John’s Gospel is that each one of you, if you’re 9 or 5 or 95, that encountering Jesus here will cause you, maybe for the first time or again for the hundredth time, to come face-to-face and shoot straight with Jesus, to look Him squarely in the eye and consider the claims that He makes about Himself and claims He makes upon your life, and say, “Is He crazy? Or is He the Christ?”
Do you believe that this man, who walked on this planet. He actually did, He walked on our planet. You could go and you could visit the places where He walked. That He was the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Gate for the Sheep. Do you hear His voice?
If you are just casually interested in Jesus, then you have not come face-to-face with the real Jesus. Let me say that again: If you are just casually interested in Jesus, you have not come face-to-face with the real Jesus. You have kept Him at arm’s length. You have thought of Him as something to just round out your life. Just a habit that might be good a few times a month or a few times a year…. But that’s not the real Jesus. As you’ve seen over and over again in John’s Gospel, when they encounter this Jesus, there is division.
You see that word in verse 19? There was again a schisma, in the Greek. You hear our English word “schism.” There is a division. No one is “meh” about Jesus. He’s a demon, or He’s divine.
And listen, if He’s not divine, if He has a demon, or He’s just a delusional man, then do not waste your time with the Bible. Don’t waste your time with church. Don’t waste your time asking Jesus into your heart, teaching your children these stories that aren’t true.
But listen. If He is divine, then there’s nothing He can’t do. There’s no one He can’t heal. There’s nothing He can’t forgive. There’s nothing He can’t ask of you and there’s nothing that we shouldn’t give up in order to follow Him.
Here we have, in this passage, the fourth of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements: I am the Bread of Life, I am the Light of the World, I am the Gate for the Sheep, that was last week, and now this week He says it twice in verse 11 and then again in verse 14, I am the Good Shepherd.
We saw last week that sheep/shepherd imagery is among the most common in the ancient world, and certainly common in the Old Testament. And it would have been very understandable to Jesus’ audience. They had all seen a flock of sheep being led in and out of the sheep pen by the shepherd, perhaps out in some rural area or as the case was most areas here were rural and they might have had an adjoining sheep pen, a stone sort of fenced in enclosure with a gate and a doorman there to open the gate for the sheep, and a shepherd to care for them and tend them. Jesus now declares Himself as He was the gate, now He says He is the shepherd.
And don’t misunderstand the metaphor. Shepherding did not involve walking around in a long, white flowing robe looking off pensively into the horizon with one of these question mark looking staffs. They were not cuddly sort of people.
D. A. Carson says in his commentary many people in the industrialized West are inclined to think of shepherds as sentimental beings, perhaps somewhat effeminate, with their arms full of cuddly lambs, and the English adjective “good” does nothing to dissuade us from these misconceptions, but the shepherd’s job was tiring, manly, and sometimes dangerous.
The word “kalos,” translated here “good,” suggests perhaps nobility or worth. Jesus may be saying “I am the noble shepherd,” or “the worthy shepherd.”
If you were a shepherd, you had a mix of what you might call soft virtues and hard virtues. A shepherd was daring.
1 Samuel 17, David said to Saul “your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep when a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock. I went after it, struck it, and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it, and killed it.”
That’s a daring occupation. Lions? Bears? Tigers? Oh my! [laughter]
That’s braver than I am. I went for a walk this morning and saw in the distance a man walking his two dogs, little teeny yelper dogs. And they see me and I am very intimidating to dogs, as I said last week, and again I think the Lord just knows I need sermon illustrations and He puts dogs in my path. These things just were pulling their master with all their might, “yip yip yip yip… ” because I, and I’d like to say I’m very brave when I have dogs barking, but usually, this is not a joke, I think, especially if they’re bigger dogs and they’re barking, and I think, “Is there a fence I could hop?” Or if they’re little dogs, I think, “How hard [laughter] am I going to kick?” Because I’m not for animal rights if they’re there nipping at my legs.
I think I would not want to rescue a sheep from a dog, let alone from a lion or a bear. A shepherd was daring!
But a shepherd was also tender. Isaiah 40:11, the sovereign Lord tends His flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in His arms, carries them close to His heart. He gently leads those that have young.
A shepherd was a ruler. 2 Samuel 5:2: “The Lord said to David, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel and you will become their ruler.”
But a shepherd was also compassionate. Psalm 95:7: “He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.”
A shepherd protects. Micah 4:4-5: “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God, and they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth and He will be their peace.”
A shepherd provides. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Ye, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For you, my good Shepherd, are with me.
One author I read describes shepherding in the ancient world as the subtle blend of authority and care. It’s important that you get both of those things. I said the shepherd excelled in both soft virtues and hard virtues. And some of you have a vision of God as having only one or the other, only authority, a sort of despot that you know that you must acquiesce to and you must worship and you need forgiveness from, He is a great and mighty judge.
Some of you only have soft virtues for God, and He is all tenderness and care and compassion and whenever possibly scolds you or discipline those He loves.
And do you see when we have that view of God, then it sometimes translates into the view that we have of others in authority over us, thinking that they should always have the authority or always have care and not realizing that to be a shepherd, and a shepherd in the household of God, is to have both.
This is how you ought to pray for your pastors and for your under-shepherds here at Christ Covenant.
It’s easy to always be soft. It’s easy to always be hard. You don’t need the work of the Spirit. You just have a certain personality. It’s easy to go off in one direction or the other. What takes a work of the Spirit of God is to have those diverse excellencies which we find perfectly in Christ, to have a Shepherd who is daring and tender, who rules and is compassionate, who protects and provides, who does not just turn a blind eye towards sin, but yet moves in the direction of the struggling sheep. So pray that it would be so for your shepherds.
The shepherd exercises authority over the sheep. He leads them, guides them, disciplines them. He gets them where they need to go. But he also demonstrates great care and compassion. He protects them. He pays attention to their needs. He binds up their wounds.
It is the very definition, to use what has become sort of a cliché term, the very definition of servant leadership. Think of those two words. What is a leader? Well, this is my simple definition of a leader: A leader is someone who has followers. If you think a leader and you turn around and there’s no one there, you’re not a leader. A leader has followers.
And what is a servant? A servant is someone who seeks what is best for those he serves.
Therefore, a servant-leader is someone who has followers, he is leading them somewhere, but his interest is not for what the followers might do to provide for his satisfaction as a shepherd so he might turn around and say, “Well, look, I have such a flock. Look at how obedient they are.” But rather, his aim is always to serve them, to serve their well-being, to lead them to green pastures, to give them the sweet times at the still waters.
We need to be those servant-leaders in whatever roles God has given us, and even more than that, we need to look to the One who is our Good Shepherd.
I may have mentioned this before, but I like, uh, I like things with languages and I like it when you find these little nuggets of interesting things. You may know that the Latin translation that dates back to the, the 400s, the Latin translation of the Bible is called the Vulgate, which was very influential in the history of the church. If you look up this passage in the Vulgate, that is in Latin, Jesus says “I am the pastor bonus.” I like that. He’s the pastor bonus. Pastor meaning shepherd, bonus meaning good. You have assistant pastors, associate pastors, you have a senior pastor, but what you really need, you need the bonus pastor. That’s what you need in your life.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the pastor bonus.
Why is He the Good Shepherd? Three reasons from our text this morning.
Number one. Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He knows the sheep. We saw this last week in verse 3, the watchman opens the gate, the sheep listen to his voice, he, he calls them out by name. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow because they know his voice.
And now we have much the same thing in verse 14. “I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me.”
Jesus now compares Himself adversely to the hired hand. He says I’m not the hired hand, somebody who comes in, and hopefully you’re not this sort of employee and you don’t have these sorts of employees, but the sort of person who says “well, it’s not my business, I’m just punching a clock, I don’t care what happens here.”
No, Jesus did not consider “hmm, I think, I took the test and it says I ought to consider a career in Messiah-ship. Mmm, well, why don’t I give it a go? Mom? Dad? What do you think?” “Well, there’s something we need to tell you.”
No, that’s not how it worked.
“Well, I don’t really like carpentry, Dad. Why don’t I try being a messiah?” and He just gave it a whirl.
No, He is a Good Shepherd, not because He’s doing it to make a living, but because He knows His sheep. He’s not the hired hand. They know Him. He does not run away when a wolf comes. If David could go after lions and bears, then how much more will Jesus protect us? And stand by us in the face of danger? He cannot leave His sheep.
I read a story several years ago about a family in the Florida Everglades. True story. And as you hear these stories from time to time, the family was in the backyard playing when the husband and wife saw an alligator come out of some of the bush and, if that’s not enough, grab their small child and head back into the bush, down toward the water. And the husband looked around for a gun, a shovel, some sort of weapon, and while he was looking around for a weapon, the mother was in a dead sprint toward the alligator, and when she found the alligator, she did as any good mom would do. She jumped on the alligator, kicked the alligator, hit it, bit it, screamed at it, until it let her child go, and then she fainted.
Now, I’m not necessarily saying that the father was like the hired hand, but the mother was certainly like the good shepherd. You have one of my babies, and don’t come between a mama and her baby cubs, and so she went down and rescued her child.
How much more does God care for us? And rescue us? Because He knows us.
You see verse 15. It says that Jesus knows us and we know Him, just as, you see this analogy here, just as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father.
So lest you think the doctrine of the trinity is just a difficult theological math problem, one in three, three in one, how does it all work, I just try not to be a heretic, and you think does it really matter in life? Well, here it does. If you don’t know how the Father and the Son relate to each other, you will not feel the depth of your own relationship with Jesus. The Father is one with the Son; He knows Him, He sends Him, He understands Him, and the Son is one with the Father, He hears Him, obeys Him, enjoys Him, delights in Him. There is a perfect unity in the Father and the Son, an ontological unity, a unity of being and essence, and a relational unity. No misunderstandings, no hurt feelings, no competing perspectives. They truly know each other as any persons can know one another.
And so in the same way, just think about it, in the same way that the Father knows the Son, so the shepherd knows his sheep. The Son knows and is known by the Father, and in the same way, we know and are known by the Son.
Brothers and sisters, do you have something approximating it? It will never be fully, but approximating that sort of closeness with the Lord Jesus Christ? That familiarity with Jesus? He knows you. Do you know Him? With the same level of delight and passion as the Father with the Son. It’s a picture of the shepherd with the sheep.
Again, Carson says the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father are logically prior to the love of God for the world and the basis that makes salvation possible.
I hope that’s some comfort to you. The doctrine of the trinity is meant to be a massive comfort to you. In those moments you think “how do I know that God really knows?” Well, does the Father know the Son?
How do I know that Jesus is really with me? Is the Son always there, the right hand of the Father?
The Father and the Son indwelling one another, so we have this union and communion with Christ.
The good shepherd knows his sheep.
I think I mentioned to you before I saw this t-shirt one time that said “Jesus loves you.” Then it said “Then again, He loves everybody.” Wah-wah-wah. I think that’s how some of, some of think about it.
“Jesus knows me.” Well, that’s His job.
“Jesus loves me.” [sound effect] He loves everybody.
No, there is a uniqueness to the shepherd’s knowledge of the sheep. Yes, God in some sense may be said to love everyone made in His image, but much more common in Scripture is this covenantal language, or here this agricultural metaphor: Jesus knows you.
It’s the difference between your love for the children in the nursery; you love them, you wish them well; and the love you have for your child in the nursery.
There’s a famous incident. Phil Gramm, who is a politician of an earlier generation, was talking about his economic policy and how he thought of his economic policies strictly in terms of what would be good for his children. And somebody in the audience said “well, think about all our children. I love your children as much as you do.” To which his response was “okay, what are their names?”
No, you don’t love my children the way that I love my children.
And so Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has a specific knowledge of, and love for, the sheep. Just a mom or a dad may be able to hear among all of the cacophony of screams in a nursery, “oh, that’s my son, that’s my daughter, that’s their cry,” do not rob yourself of Jesus’ particular love for you, His particular knowledge for you, by overemphasizing a different kind of love He has for everyone.
It’s like that line, you remember, from The Incredibles: “If everyone is special, then no one is.”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He specifically, especially knows you, if you are His sheep. He calls them out by name. You’re not just a number, you’re not just a bleating voice among the flock. He knows you, He knows me.
He’s a Good Shepherd because He knows the sheep.
Second, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He brings all the sheep into one flock.
When Jesus says, in verse 16, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen,” He’s thinking about Gentiles.
Isaiah 56:8: “The sovereign Lord declares, ‘He who gathers the exiles of Israel, I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.'”
In other words, the Messiah, it was predicted, would not only restore the lost tribes of Jacob, Isaiah 49:6, but that would be too small a thing. No, He would also be a light for the Gentiles.
Paul explains in Ephesians chapter 3, the mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body. So He’s describing this supernatural reconciling work. First the reconciliation must be to God, and then only as we are reconciled to God, might there be true reconciliation to one another.
Jews, Gentiles. It’s almost impossible for us to really put our, our heads in their heads and think how, how novel and scandalous this was. Gentiles, one flock, now one shepherd.
You see that in verse 16? It sounds even better in the Greek. It says “one poimne, one poimen.” Same word, different accent. One sheep place, one sheep person, is how you could translate it. One flock, one shepherd.
Jesus’ point is emphatic. If we are one group of sheep, then we will have one Shepherd.
Now there are unfortunate and sometimes unavoidable divisions, based upon theological discernment or error. That’s not the sort of divisions or oneness that Jesus is talking about. But insofar as there is true theological, spiritual oneness, under one Shepherd, there is only one flock, for Jews and Gentiles, blacks and whites, Asians and Hispanics, rich and poor, old and young, together in one flock. And given our own geography or social location, we may look around at a church and say “well, there’s a lot of people that look one way here,” and we won’t beat ourselves up over that too much. And yet, and yet, we do want to look around and say might there be obstacles invisible to many of us that are preventing, are getting in the way of showing forth the oneness of God’s flock, because we only have one Shepherd. And in a church this size, I hope that we would be able to look around and say “in allegiance to this one Shepherd, in this one flock, we have sheep that are very different, that look different, educated differently, speak differently, come from different places, bringing glory to God as He brings us together in one flock.”
Our efforts at relational oneness in the church must start with our theological oneness in Christ. That’s the lasting basis for true reconciliation or unity.
Listen, we come from the same parents, Adam and Eve. We were born with the same sin nature. We need the same Savior. And insofar as we believe in Christ, we have one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, one faith, one hope, one baptism, one flock, one Shepherd.
And when you have all of that oneness, it gives you a lot of good reasons to stay at the table and try to figure out how to show it to the world.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He brings all the sheep into one flock.
And third, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He lays down His life for the sheep.
This is in specific fulfillment to a number of Old Testament prophecies. Zechariah 11:7 and 8. We see the Messiah as the rejected shepherd. In Zechariah 12:10 we see Him as the One pierced and mourned over. In Zechariah 13:7 we see the Messiah as the Shepherd struck down by the Lord Himself.
All of these images from Zechariah are coming together: A Messiah who is a shepherd, a shepherd who is rejected, a shepherd/messiah who is pierced and is struck. Jesus is claiming that He will be the fulfillment of all that Zechariah looked forward to. This rejected, pierced, Messiah, shepherd who will freely lay down His life for the sheep.
And you notice how important that language is in verse 18? “No one takes it from Me. I lay it down of My own accord.”
Sometimes you hear this language and it really is blasphemous. People say “Well, your view of the atonement with the Father piercing His Son for the sins of the world. That’s some sort of cosmic child abuse. What sort of father does that to his son?”
Well, that fails in so many ways and is nigh unto blasphemy, but here we see one of the chief ways in which that horrible analogy fails: No one took the Son’s life from Him. This is not a son cowering in the corner, being beaten by some angry, vengeful father. No, in this divinely, eternally arranged compact between the Father and the Son, it was agreed the work that each would do to accomplish our redemption. The Father in appointing and sending the Son, and the Son in willingly, freely giving Himself as the Good Shepherd for the sheep.
Sometimes we think of Jesus as a victim. I suppose He was in the sense of people mistreating Him and giving to Him what He didn’t deserve. But in another sense, we must never think of Christ as a victim. It was freely, voluntarily, that He gave His life for ours.
This is an example again of how all of us ought to lead others and in particular it is a sobering reminder for God’s shepherds in the church.
I’m struck by this line from Calvin: “It is the universal duty of all pastors or shepherds to defend the doctrine which they proclaim, even at the expense of their own life, and to seal the doctrine of the Gospel with the their blood.”
And then he says this: “It must be held that a pastor ought to prefer his flock, or even a single sheep, to his own life.”
It’s the calling of the pastor.
Make no mistake, the Good Shepherd does not lay does His life merely as an example. No, He doesn’t die just to set an example for the sheep. Some people imagine the cross and the atonement to work that way: Nothing but an example, well, look at what an example of God’s love for us.
Well, it is that, but not merely that. As if the Good Shepherd said, as He ran headlong off a cliff and plunged to His death, “See how much I love youuuuuuuu.”
Well, some example. No, He does for them because they are in danger. There are wolves. Their life is in jeopardy. He gives up His life as a Shepherd for the sheep. It’s a voluntary exchange. Free, full, particular, and perpetual. The life of the Shepherd for the life of the sheep.
I want you to reflect just in these last moments what it means for Jesus to lay down His life for the sheep. Notice it doesn’t say for the wolves, He does not lay down His life for the goats, but for the sheep. The ones that He knows by name. The ones who know His voice.
The Bible teaches that Jesus died for His sheep, and only for His sheep. The doctrine is sometimes called limited atonement, though that sounds negative to people. Perhaps a better term is “particular redemption.” And why even bother talking about it here in John 10, besides that it is a fair implication from the text. No, it’s important to talk about because it gets at the very heart and the nature of the Gospel.
Here’s one definition of what I’m talking about. It comes from the Canons of Dort. It says “although the death of God’s Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins, it is of infinite value and worth, more than,” listen to this language, “sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world. It was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross, by which He confirmed the new covenant, should effectively redeem for every people, tribe, nation, and language all those, and only those, who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to Him by the Father.”
Did you hear that language? The limit of the atonement is not in its sufficiency. It’s not that somehow Christ’s death wasn’t enough to atone for the sins of every man, woman, and child. It was more than sufficient. Nothing was lacking in the death of Christ.
And yet, it was uniquely efficient to redeem people from every tribe, language, nation, and tongue those who had been chosen by the Father and given unto the Son. In other words, Jesus did not die indiscriminately for every person. The Good Shepherd died for His sheep.
That’s why John 6, Jesus says He came to save those whom the Father had given to Him.
Or Matthew 1:21 says He died for His people.
Or John 15:13 says He lays down His life for His friends.
Acts 20:28 says God shed His blood for the church.
Ephesians 5:25 says for His bride.
Ephesians 1:4 says He died for those chosen in Christ.
You see what all those verses are getting at? The atonement is particularly for the elect, the bride, the sheep, the church, His friends, His people, His chosen ones.
And the reason to even bring this up in our closing moments is because this is no small matter as we try to understand the Gospel. Listen carefully. We ought not to say simply Christ died so that sinners might come to Him. There is a sense in which that is true. But we must say more than simply that. Not Christ died so that sinners may come to Him, as if Christ just in His death removed the final obstacle that therefore you might be enabled to be saved. No, we say Christ died for sinners. There’s a big difference.
Did Christ’s work on the cross merely make it possible for sinners to come to Him, or did Christ’s work on the cross actually, effectively, efficiently reconcile sinners to God?
Or put it another way: Does the death of Christ make us saveable, or does it make us, all those who are His chosen ones, saved? Does it make us saveable, or does it make God’s people saved?
See, the atonement is limited in one respect or another. If you believe, as the Bible teaches in so many places, that there is heaven and there is hell, and not everyone is in heaven, there are some people consigned to everlasting punishment in hell, therefore there must be some persons whose sins have not been forgiven, some people not reconciled to God.
Now if that is the case, what did the death of Christ on the cross accomplish? Well, if you say, “Well, Jesus died in the place of sinners.”
Well, in the place of every specific sinner on the face of the planet, such that every single person has had their sins washed away by the blood of Christ? Then how do you explain that anyone is in hell?
So you either have to make it limited to its extent, or limited in its effect. That is to say, either the death of Christ was not in a final redemptive sense for everyone, or it was for everyone but it did not actually, fully, particularly redeem anyone. It made us saveable, but did not make us saved.
Spurgeon wrote “we are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved.”
But Spurgeon argues “it is the view of the atonement which says no one in particular was saved at the cross that actually limits Christ’s death.”
Again, quote from Spurgeon: “We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no one can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved.”
That’s what we mean by the particular redemption of Christ. That’s what we mean by the Good Shepherd laying down His life not for goats, but for sheep. If the atonement is not particularly and only for the sheep, then either we have a universalism, Christ died in everyone’s place and therefore everyone is saved, or we have something less than substitutionary atonement. Then the death of Christ is something other than His life in place of my life. If Jesus died for everyone on the planet, then we no longer mean that He died in the place of sinners, taking upon them their shame, our sins, our rebellion, so that we have the death of death and the death of Christ.
Rather, we end up meaning that Jesus died to make it merely possible, to remove obstacles. Well, that may be half the Gospel, but as a half Gospel, it is not the full Gospel. Limited is not the word that we use because we have some interest as Reformed people in limiting divine mercy, but in order to safeguard the central affirmation that Christ is a Redeemer who really effectually redeems. Than when this Good Shepherd lay down His life, it wasn’t as an example merely, wasn’t simply to say now that any beast on the earth may come to me, but it was for the sheep that He knows by name that He calls by name, that would believe in His name, for you, for you, for you, in your place.
Not just a general atonement, a general act of goodwill towards men. But the particular effectual redemption of His people.
J. I. Packer explains “it cannot be overemphasized that we have not seen the full meaning of the cross til we have seen particular redemption as the center of the Gospel, flanked on the one hand by total inability and unconditional election, and on the other by irresistible grace and final preservation, for the full meaning of the cross only appears when the atonement is defined in terms of these four truths. Christ died to save a certain company of helpless sinners upon whom God had set His free saving love, Christ’s death ensured the calling and the keeping, the present and final salvation, of all whose sins He bore. That is what Calvary meant and means. The cross saved, the cross saves.”
I belabor this point not to belittle those who may come from different traditions or are just being introduced to some of these doctrines, but because I think from texts like this and other ones like it that it is imperative in giving Jesus Christ His full glory, not merely as a savior who says “I’ve done my part, I lay down my life, I love everyone so much. If you would just make the final step and cast the deciding vote. Satan says no, I say yes, the deciding vote is in your hands.”
Oh, friends, no one will be saved with such an arrangement like that. But rather we have one who says “come to me, and all who come, the Father has drawn.”
We have One who says “I was pierced for your transgressions; I was crushed for you, believer, your inequities. I have purchased with My blood men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. I Myself bore your sins in My body on the tree so you might infallibly die to sin, and assuredly live for righteousness.” For Jesus says “My wounds did not merely make healing available, My wounds healed you.”
Oh, precious is the flow that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus. Praise be to our Good Shepherd, who lays down His life once for all, infallibly, irresistibly, unconditionally, perfectly, and effectually, for His beloved sheep.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we give thanks for so great a salvation, that You sent Your Son, not merely to remove obstacles that we might come to You, but to die as a perfect sacrifice in the place of horribly imperfect sinners. We claim these as our own, clinging to Your cross, not to our righteousness, not even to our faith, except as a mere instrument of receiving all of Your blessings. And we bow, and we worship, at the foot of the cross, for the Good Shepherd who shed His blood for the sheep. In Jesus we pray. Amen.