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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Life Beyond Life (John 10:1-10)

The Gospel - John 10:1-10 (Fourth Sunday of Easter) - YouTube

Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020

*This message will be broadcast by Facebook and Instagram Live and posted to Youtube, but will not be preached to a live audience.  We – America, the world – are in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis which is causing people all over the world to avoid gathering in groups of larger than 10, and diligently maintain “social distance.”  It’s an effort to curb the rapid, worldwide spread of the Corona virus which can be deadly.

            Do you have something you’ve always wanted to do, but most likely never will?  I have several.  If I had to pick one, it would be surfing, the ocean not the web.

            Surfing looks so beautiful, so athletic, and free.  The best of poets cannot adequately describe the vastness of the ocean.  To ride balanced atop a board as waves throw you forward violently; to turn that furious fight into a graceful dance; that is life.  It is one thing to say, ‘I am alive,’ and another to say, ‘I am really living.’   When I imagine surfing at its very best, I think to myself, “That’s living life to the fullest.”  Sighing, I wistfully muse that it is something I’ll never experience.

            You might say to me, ‘Rob, if you really wanted that, you could have it.  First, you have to travel to a beach where there are waves.  Second, you have to research surfing classes taught at that particular beach.  Third, you have to enroll in those classes.  Fourth, you have to practice until you are really good.’

            I might respond, ‘That all sounds well and good.  But what you suggest requires a lot of money and a lot of time.  All my money and time mostly belongs to my family and my job.’

            You say back, ‘Yeah, you have responsibilities.  But, when you were younger, before the family, you didn’t choose to do what you needed to do to be in a position to learn to surf.  Now that you’re older, you could still learn to do it.  There are ways.’

            At this point, I come back with, ‘But, I just had this major ankle surgery.  And even before that, my knees were kind of shot.  I see surfer in a kind of squat as they balance on that board.  I don’t know if I can do that.’

            You respond, ‘O come on!  Your knees aren’t that bad.  You can do it.  There are one-legged surfers.  They get dogs up on surfboards.  Quit the sorry excuses.’

            ‘But,’ I say back, ‘I am kind of scared of sharks.  And, in recent years, I have become quite fearful of drowning.’

            You roll your eyes and remind me of how infinitesimally small are the odds I would be attacked by a shark, much less die in a shark attack.  Then you remind me of how I am always challenging people to face their fears.

            We go back and forth, and maybe you eventually convince me to get myself to the coast and get on a board.  Maybe I resist your persuasions and pressure but deep down feel disappointed in myself.  Either way, it’s the wrong conversation.

            I’d love to ride a wave or stand atop Mount Everest. Do I need those things to be able to say I am really living?  If I say ‘yes,’ then the thrill, the experience has become ultimate in my life.  If something other than Jesus is ultimate in life, it becomes an idol.  It occupies that space that Jesus ought to hold in your life.  And it can’t give you the fulfillment He can give. 

            She wants to get married, but is still single.  Life won’t be fulfilled for her unless she gets married.  Jesus ought to be our fulfillment.  If she’s sure her happiness will only be complete with a husband, marriage become the ultimate thing in her life.  It becomes an idol.  The same could be said about academic achievement or parenting or career success.  Becoming a parent, getting married, being named company president, receiving your doctorate, climbing Everest, making it onto an NFL roster, mastering the piano – these are wonderful things that bring happiness and can point to God’s glory.  If achieving one of these or something else is your life’s goal and you don’t make it, disappointment will come.  That’s natural.  Feel your disappointment.  It’s Okay.

            Understand this.  Jesus came for specific reasons.  In church we talk a lot about Jesus’ death and resurrection; we talk about his birth; we talk about his call upon the church, his teachings, and his promise to return at the end of history. We need to devote attentions to his coming and what it means.

In Mark chapter 1 Jesus frees people from demon possession and physical disease and disability.   The result of Jesus’ miracles is that evil and illness no longer prevented people from living good, full, enriched lives.  They were free to thrive.  In Mark 1:38 Jesus says that proclaiming the message is why he came. 

In John 10:10, he reiterates this purpose.  “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.”  This verse falls in a narrative flow that goes all the way back to the beginning of John 9 where  the disciples meet a blind man.  They want Jesus to tell them whose fault it is that this poor soul cannot see.  Was it his sin or his parents’ sin (9:2)?  Jesus blows their minds when he tells them that this blindness shouldn’t reveal sin, not while he’s around.  Rather, blindness will reveal God at work.  Then, he heals the man’s blindness.  A great controversy ensues.  This miracle endows Jesus with authority the formal authorities, the Pharisees, lack.

They have to affirm the man is healed so he can be re-instated at the synagogue, but doing so reveals their impotence in the face of sin and blindness.  By acknowledging what Jesus did, they acknowledge their own blindness and inadvertently forfeit the power they so dearly held.  For those Pharisees, being religious authorities is the ultimate.  Instead of serving the worshiping community in their role as Bible teachers, the role itself has become an idol they serve.

John 9 ends with the healed man worshipping Jesus (9:38) and the religious authorities angry at him.  Chapter 10 continues the pattern of John’s gospel.  After a miracle or an encounter, Jesus then teaches.  The heart of the lesson is that Jesus is the true teacher, the real shepherd.  The point is made that he knows his sheep, his followers, and they know him.  The aforementioned religious leaders are strangers the sheep don’t recognize (John 10:5) and thieves the sheep ignore (John 10:8).

Jesus is the one who leads the sheep to pasture, which is what the sheep need for a healthy life.  Jesus gives us what we need.  Beyond necessity, Jesus gives abundance.  Surfing is thrilling.  Climbing a mountain or the corporate ladder is a rush.  But only with Jesus are we really living, and truly thriving in a full life.

When I was in high school, I had a faith mission.  I had turned my life over to Jesus at age 11.  By the time I was 16, I was fully invested in Jesus.  As a Baptist that also meant I needed to share Christ with friends who did not have faith.  Something troubled me about this.  It seemed that the commonly held perception was Christian kids are well-behaved, but non-Christian party animals have all the fun.  My mission was to debunk this myth and show that Christians have even more fun because we’re part of a better story.  I don’t know how successful I was in my mission to let people know that being a follower of Jesus is awesome.  I do know I was on the right track.

Jesus give fullness of life to all who follow him.  Earlier this week, I told my friend Phil I was going to be talking about the second half of John 10:10.  He immediately asked, “What does it mean in the Greek?”  When I hemmed and hawed, he said you better look it up.  I’m glad I did.

“I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.”  ‘Perissos’ literally means superabundance, more than enough, ‘more than we could ask or imagine.’[i]  This word, in verb form, is used in Romans 5:20. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”  The grace we have through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, doesn’t just keep up with our blunders or account for our mistakes or cover our sins.  The grace of God is so plentiful it ‘superabundantly’ washes away our sins.[ii] 

We surely have the promise of a blessed eternal life in resurrected bodies lived with Jesus in the New Earth promised in Revelation 21.  That eternal hope, which we realize later, after death, matters.  The promise for our life, right now, matters just as much.  Following Jesus doesn’t make life easier, but it does make the struggle worth it and we even have joy in our striving.  Walking with Christ doesn’t solve every problem, but it does mean we’re in a community of the people – the church – who walk with us through each trial.  Abundant life is the best life we can hope to have by any description.  You can have abundant life.  Jesus came that you might be free from sin, injury, and any other obstacle that blocks your path to joy.  He makes your joy complete. 

I’d still love to go surfing!  I have a few other bucket list items too.  What I really want is for people to see that the life of a Jesus follower is fun, full of laughs and frequent happy times, and meaningful.  I want to share that.  Whether or not I am successful, either in crossing off bucket list items or leading people to Jesus, I know I already have abundant life.  I know this because it is not up to me or anyone around me.  It is not up to destiny, effort, or luck.  Life beyond life is something Jesus secures.  And he has secured it.

He has risen from the grave.  He is Lord.  We have abundant life because he gives it; he gives superabundantly.


[i] Ephesians 3:20. 
[ii] Bromiley, Geoffrey W. (1985), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in one Volume, edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p.828-829.

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