THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 30, 2020
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 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. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 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. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 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.”
19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
— John 10:11-21, ESV
The third and fourth of seven “I Am” statements made by Jesus in the Gospel of John are bound together in one beautiful sermon. Yet the gravity of each “I Am” declaration requires us to weigh each one individually. They go together. They stand alone. This is yet another perfect Johannine paradox.
“I am the door” is stated twice in vs. 1-10. This two-fold proclamation affirms Jesus is God and Jesus is the only way to God. Inside “the door” is two-fold life, eternal and abundant. It is grand announcement, transcendent, exclusive, corporate, cool.
“I am the good shepherd,” also expressed twice with much elaboration in vs. 11-21, is equal in inspiration of course, but quite different in tone. It is a personal promise and speaks of God in ways that are imminent, embraceable, personal, warm-hearted.
We must go through “the door” to be saved, to be sure. But it is “the good shepherd” who does the saving. Jesus Christ is the one who saves us, sustains us, and secures for us the eternal and abundant life. Let us take a close look at who He is as “shepherd” and experience what He does for we who qualify as “sheep.”
The Good Shepherd is God
Shepherds were a common sight in Israel. They pioneered a noble, if not profitable, profession. It was hard and dangerous work. Wolves are mentioned in the text, and other biblical passages speak of predatory lions and bears, too.
There was actually a Jewish law in Jesus’ day that required shepherds to stay put in the face of one wolf, but they could run for the hills if two or more wolves reared their heads. Like any profession, shepherding had its bad and good representatives, so there were bad shepherds who would neglect or abandon the sheep, and there were good shepherds who would do their duty and then some.
Jesus did not liken Himself to any ordinary shepherd, or even a good shepherd. He said, “I am the good shepherd.” The use of the definite article “the” means Jesus is the only one of this kind of shepherd. The superlative choice among three adjectives available for the word “good” means even more.
In His encounter with a rich young ruler (recorded in the three other Gospels), the man did not call Jesus the good shepherd, but he did call him the good teacher. Jesus seized on his use of the word “good” and said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (ref. Luke 18:19). In so saying, Jesus meant either He was not good, or that He is God, who is great and good.
Combine all four Gospels and discover that Jesus is both good and God. When this perfect goodness and the fulness of deity takes bodily form (ref. Colossians 2:9), He comes out looking like a shepherd, “the good shepherd.”
“The good shepherd,” the Lord Jesus Christ, loves His sheep, so much so He is willing to stand in the face of a million wolves and die in order to save them.
The Good Shepherd is Savior
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” said the good shepherd Jesus Christ.
This was a startling statement, made some six months ahead of Calvary. On the surface, it did not make sense at first. No shepherd would die for a sheep, not even a good one. Human life is simply worth more than sheep life.
So while it would have been stunning to think of a man dying for a sheep, it becomes even more unfathomable when you consider God’s willingness to die for man. But that is exactly what our God did for us, for His people, on behalf of and in place of, “for the sheep.”
A “hired hand” would not protect the sheep, but rather turn and run. Hired hands represent non-Christian religions who use religion as a false security blanket. Hired hands can be nominal Christians, too, who make superficial professions of faith only to tuck and run when real discipleship is required. Such a hand cannot lead you to God nor protect you from the onslaughts of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
A “wolf” would not die for the sheep, but rather kill them if possible. Wolves represent more precisely those worldly lusts and devilish desires that devour the very people to whom they promise pleasure. A wolf could be illicit drug, sexual immorality, or even a simple dollar bill that woos a person out of the safety of home and hearth into the killing fields where souls die and go to Hell.
Hired hands fail and wolves kill but “the good shepherd” saves! Jesus saves lovingly (ref. John 3:16), Jesus saves sacrificially (ref. Romans 5:8), and Jesus saves willingly (vs. 18).
Sheep are always in danger and the greatest danger is death. But “the good shepherd,” who is God, died so that the sheep never have to perish, but have everlasting life.
The Good Shepherd is Personal
When God saves, He does not save flocks, He saves sheep, one at a time. Salvation must be personal. You will not go to Heaven because your parents were sheep, or because you married a sheep, or because you rubbed shoulders with sheep. You must personally become a sheep through a personal relationship with “the good shepherd.” Jesus said, “I know my own and my own know me … and they will listen to my voice” (vs. 14-16).
All Christians are sheep who were once goats, and I don’t mean the greatest of all time. We were sinners separated from God and spiritually dead. But when we are reached by grace and gripped by mercy, it is“the good shepherd” who has left the ninety-nine for a moment in order to come and claim just one sheep, personally.
Goats become sheep when they are chosen by the Shepherd, converted by the Shepherd, and secured into the sheepfold by the Shepherd. Goats become sheep when they “listen to my voice,” Jesus said, when the word of the Shepherd turns them around in repentance and opens their eyes in faith. Then begins this personal relationship between the Shepherd and the sheep, which logically and theologically leads them into the corporate relationship of the sheepfold, which is the church of the living Shepherd.
It is my understanding that you cannot herd goats. They won’t listen to a shepherd, they won’t band together, they don’t care for one another. But sheep are different. Though they come to the Shepherd one by one, they do band together, they follow the Shepherd together, pursue godly things that honor the Shepherd, and are used by the Shepherd to produce more sheep, generation after generation, bringing them into this eternal and abundant fold.
Jesus is God and Jesus is Savior, but He must be your personal God and Savior to consider yourself a sheep. So hear the Lord’s voice, heed His call, and start showing the signs of a sheep. Baaaaaa!
The Good Shepherd is Controversial
As Jesus gathers His flock with the gospel, there erupts “a division … because of these words.” The flock is fine, well fed, protected, eternally secure. The division is among the goats outside who cannot seem to make up their mind about “the good shepherd.”
Jesus of Nazareth, “the good shepherd,” claimed to be the only God and Savior for those in a world of lost goats to become sheep. Let me make your options simple by using an age old alliteration. Jesus Christ was either a liar, a lunatic, or He is Lord.
If He was a liar, He was also a fool. He made no money off His scheme, achieved no high office, and let himself get caught in a conspiracy between the right and the left only to be crucified in the middle. But His lies were not the reason for His demise, for He told none.
If He was a lunatic, as every other would-be messiah has proven to be, then He would have been forgotten like a lump of coal on the ash-heap of history. There would not be a thousand books written about Him, nor would the book of books have a second testament. So He could not have been mad.
That only leaves us with the last option, Jesus Christ is Lord. If Jesus is Lord, then let the clamor and division cease. Let sin no more abound. Let unbelief be erased. Repent and believe the good news about “the good shepherd,” and accept Him as your personal God and Savior today.
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 23, 2020
1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and 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.
— John 10:1-10, ESV
Every four years we have a presidential election. Each one seems to become more acrimonious than the one before. No longer does one party present their ideas as better for the country than the other party’s, but rather each side predicts the violent death of America if the other side wins. With the future of the free world at stake, I suppose we should pay attention and vote wisely.
A similar tug of war took place near the end of Jesus’ public ministry. There was no separation of church and state in those days, because the state of Israel was the church, so to speak, the visible expression of the kingdom of God. Among the religio-political parties vying for control were the legalistic Pharisees, the liberal Sadducees, the big government Herodians, the ideologue Essenes, and the militant Zealots. One of them arose to fiercely oppose the would-be Messiah from Galilee, lest Jesus take away their power and prestige.
This opposing party was the populist Pharisees, who promised the people lower taxes on earth and a simple path to Heaven, by keeping their man-made, cookie-cutter religious rules. Jesus, on the other hand, preached giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, plus a more comprehensive plan of salvation that required giving absolutely all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength to God.
The Pharisees warned that if people followed Jesus, Israel would be ruined and the Romans would take over (as if they hadn’t already). Plus, Jesus, they said, was a notorious sinner who kept breaking their Sabbath rules, so there was no way He could lead people to be right with God.
Jesus countered by claiming that if the people followed the Pharisees, they would become twice as much children of Hell as the Pharisees themselves. It was an ugly campaign, but it produced one of the most beautiful chapters in the word of God, John 10, where Jesus’ message is essentially, don’t follow them, follow Me.
We begin with the first 10 verses, with Jesus’ recurring claim of deity and constant offer of salvation. They are packed in His third of seven “I Am” slogans recorded by John. Jesus said, “I am the door.”
The Door is Legitimacy
The Pharisees were constantly critiquing Jesus as unqualified to sit on the thrones of David (as Savior) and God (as Lord). They bore false witness about Jesus being born in Galilee (He was born in Bethlehem, Judea), raised by peasants (Mary and Joseph were from the royal line of David and the messianic tribe of Judah), and a breaker of God’s law (He only broke their man-made, legalistic rules, never the word of God).
Jesus counters by claiming, “I am the door,” the only legitimate entrance and access to the kingdom of God, which is likened to “sheep” in a “sheepfold” in this chapter. On the other hand, all of the other leaders and parties, especially the Pharisees, were “thieves,” “robbers,” and “strangers.” They were the illegitimate ones, offering false gospels and empty promises.
It was established then, and it remains true today, that the only way to have legitimate access to the true and living God is through “the door” of Jesus Christ and Christianity. And God is guarding the door, assisted by “gatekeeper” preachers heralding the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If you listen to the wrong message and try to slip in using another religion, God will ban you like a “thief.” If you try to buy your way in with money, your money will perish like that of a “robber.” If you try to convinced Him you belong because you are a good person, He will not hear you and draw you near to His heart because you are a “stranger” to Him.
Do you want God in your life? Do you want to be involved in the life of the kingdom of God, and live in it forever? Then you have got to enter in the right door, the only legitimate door to God and God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “I am the door.” I vote for Him!
The Door is Salvation
When you walk through the door of Christ, by grace through faith, you find salvation. Jesus said the second time, “I am the door,” then followed, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” “Saved!”
The Pharisees were insulted, for they saw no need for themselves or anyone else to be saved by Jesus. Good people who play by the rules don’t need to get saved. If anything, they felt they were saved already by their own works. They saw themselves as the “sheep” of God’s “sheepfold,” even the “shepherd” assigned to bring others inside. But in actuality they were wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Yet people followed the Pharisees then, as they do now. You ask the typical non-Christian or nominal Christian today, the man on the street or the mainline Protestant, the secular humanist or the lapsed Catholic, “Would you like to be saved?” They will laugh in your face. “Saved?” “Saved from what?”
Do you know what steals like a “thief,” takes away like a “robber,” and leaves you cold and alone like a “stranger?” Sin. Sin is the disobedience or disregard of God’s perfect will, best described and discerned from His holy word, the Bible. We all sin, and the perfect and holy God does not take it lightly. This is why sinners need the salvation found just inside “the door.”
It is hard to reach people who are lost in the throws of the drunkenness of alcohol and drugs, for they feel too good. It is hard to reach people who are lost in the pleasures of sexual immorality, spurning biblical marriage and morals, because they feel too much. It is hard to reach people who are lost in their own pride, greed, and lust for money, for they feel too little. It is hard to reach people who are lost, when the thieves and robbers and strangers of this present world have hypnotized them to feel like they not.
Jesus is different. He loves you enough to tell you the truth. His word teaches that we are all sinners, by nature, by commission, and by omission. His law condemns us to earthly consequences and eternal punishment. But His gospel saves us, with the imputed righteousness of His perfect life and the atoning for sin in His sacrificial death.
Many doors lead to sin. One door leads to salvation. Jesus said, “I am the door.” I vote for Him!
The Door is More
You know John 3:16. Take a look at John 10:10. It adds more to the salvation promised by God through Jesus Christ.
Have you seen the commercials that come on television during football season (Dear Lord, Let there be a football season this year?!). They taught the Southeastern Conference as the best and claim that to the member institutions and their states (including Arkansas and Georgia!), football means more. The SEC offers the best players, the smartest coaches, the greatest game experiences, the most champions. Amen!
People who walk through the door and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are not better than other people. But, we most definitely enjoy better lives. We have more. We have more quantity of life and more quality of life. We have a better eternity and a better existence. Our lives, because the door we have entered through, just means more.
Spurn the Pharisees and your own pride, walk through the door of the gospel of Jesus Christ, be born again by grace through faith in Christ, and you will have more. You will have more time when this life is over. The time is infinite and it is called eternity and the location is Heaven. But that is not all.
Before you go to enjoy your immeasurable life in Heaven, you will live the most meaningful life possible on earth. I did not say pleasurable, prosperous, or pain-free, I said meaningful. You life will just mean more, if it is lived for Christ and His kingdom.
You will give God glory in your public and private worship. You will give God pleasure in the way you walk as a disciple and help to make other disciples. You will give God joy in your fellowship with Him and your fellow sheep. You will give God help, yes, you will partner with God, as a means of ministry to others and in the mission to spread the gospel all over the world. All other lives are temporary and ultimately empty. The Christian life just means more.
And, you just might enjoy it, too. Luther championed sex, martial sex which he freed the priests to seek and enjoy. The Puritans had beer for breakfast. Spurgeon told the funniest jokes in Elizabethan England, drank brandy, and smoked big cigars. When Covid-19 is over, I’m going back to throwing my PPP’s, Pastor’s Patio Parties and dining out regularly with members of the church family. Being a Pharisee is gloom and doom and death; being a Christian is eternal and abundant life.
But, to be a Christian, you have to go through the door. Jesus said, “I am the door.” I vote for Him!
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 16, 2020
1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
— John 9:1-41, ESV
The best selling and most often recorded song of all time was not written by the Beatles or Bob Dylan. It was written by a Reformed Pastor by the name of John Newton. Newton, as you may know, was an English slave trader who was converted to Christianity in 1748. In 1790, while carrying out his pastoral practice of writing hymns to accompany his sermons (he wrote at least 280), he penned “Amazing Grace.”
The biblical inspiration for the beautiful hymn came from, among other places, this story in the Gospel of John. It is the sixth of seven “signs,” or prominent miracles recorded by John, and it repeats the second of seven “I Am” statements made by Jesus. In the miracle, Jesus heals a young man born blind, whose famous testimony, “Though I was blind, now I see,” (vs. 25)
is echoed in Newton’s famous first verse.
Remember that virtually every miracle performed by Jesus is a parable preached by Jesus. The miracles are parables that proclaim the good news of salvation, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That Jesus saved this man’s sight is grace indeed, but that Jesus saved the man’s soul, that’s amazing grace.
This is the story of “a man blind from birth” (vs. 1). He did not lose his sight, he never had it, and had no idea of what it is like to see. It was not his fault that he was blind, per se, nor any fault of his parents, it was just his lot in life, a lot cast by God (ref. Exodus 4:11) in order to glorify God (vs. 3, ref. Romans 8:28).
There was no cure for blindness then, just as there is no complete cure now. No miracle worker, not even Moses nor Elijah, had ever healed blindness, neither have any charlatan televangelists like Bennie Hinn or Joel O’Steen. If blind you are, it is blind you will stay, apart from the miraculous grace of God.
This man had made peace with his blindness. He lived in darkness, it was a darkness he was used to. When Jesus found him, he was doing what blind people did in those days, sitting down beside the road begging for coins. This he did day after day, until the day “the Light of the world” (vs. 5) entered his darkness.
It is clear here that the only thing that could bring this man out of blindness and into sight, out of darkness and into the light, was the miraculous grace of God, held in the powerful hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was a miracle worker in His day, though a discriminate one. He healed on His terms, in His time, and in His own various and sundry ways.
In this miracle, John’s sixth sign, Jesus took the initiative, as God always does. He was aware of the man’s suffering, and allowed it up to this time in his life. The Lord did something unusual, combining spit and dirt to make mud to cover his blind eyes. The Lord did something usual, too, by giving a command, this one to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam, which required faith, repentance, and obedience.
The man believed in the word and work of Jesus. He turned from his begging bench toward the Pool of Siloam, the very illustration of Christ’s living water. He obeyed the Lord and washed himself in the water. Then, though he was blind, he could now see.
The religious and legalistic Pharisees were upset with Jesus, the healed blind man, and his parents. Jesus had performed, and they had received, a miraculous work, but it was a work performed on the Sabbath Day, in violation of their extra-biblical rules.
The parents threw their son under the bus. They did not want to get kicked out of the synagogue and lose their works-based-religion and social status. They should have been singing Jesus’ praises and taking their son on his first sight-seeing tour, but they cowed down to the crowd.
The man, perhaps as young as 13 or as old as 20, stood up to the Pharisees and stood apart from his parents. In the process, he was transformed twice. He received his physical sight. Though he did not know what Jesus looked like, blind as he was during their first encounter, he recognized Jesus’ voice. Upon hearing the word of God and seeing the Son of God, he believed, as attested to the change in address from “sir” to “Lord” (a nuance correctly captured by the two different English renderings of the one Greek word “Kurios”).
“Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
— Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13
While only 39 million people in the world today are born physically blind (less than 1/2 of 1% of the population), 100% of human beings are born spiritually blind. Theologians call this condition total depravity. It is the absolute inability to see God, seek God, or give God the only thing that pleases Him, namely faith (ref. Hebrews 11:6), on your own. It is a state of sin and unbelief, to which the vast majority of people become accustomed.
Like the man born blind, we are helpless until we are helped by the Lord. People can help, with prayers and witness. Church attendance can help, where the Bible is rightly preached and the sacraments are regularly observed. There are many means of grace. But there is only one source of saving grace, and that source is our sovereign Lord.
If you see salvation as something you can earn, you will never have it. If you see salvation as some kind of cooperative effort between you and God, like Pelagius and Arminius and Finney, then you are badly mistaken. If you see salvation as a miracle of divine grace, like John and Paul and Augustine and Luther and Calvin and Spurgeon, then you see correctly. But remember, such sight is a miraculous gift of God’s saving grace.
Salvation is a gift that makes a blind man see, a lame man walk, a dead man live. Salvation is a gift given by a discriminate God, who has chosen the recipients before the creation of the world, then reaches them in different ways and means. Salvation is a gift given when the word of God is heard, and the grace-enabled response is faith, repentance, and obedience, just like the man in this story.
Thought the particulars differ from person to person, people who are saved by grace always experience joy, persecution, and resolution. I wish we could do away with the middle man, but he is part of the proof of our salvation.
Joy comes from seeing, walking, and living with the Lord. The Bible makes sense. The church is a delight not a drudgery. And the heavenly insurance policy, the assurance that Heaven awaits at the end of your journey on earth, is an unimaginable comfort.
Persecution comes from within, religious folks like the Pharisees, even family members and friends who do not share or understand radical faith. Persecution comes from without in the world in which we live, ever more so as the days for Christ’s return approach. Battle lines are drawn, choices have to be made, but for those who have been saved by grace to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, there is only one road.
When one really sees the gospel and resolutely follows Jesus, there is a peace that the Apostle Paul says passes all understanding (ref. Philippians 4:7). It is all of grace, it is an ever deepening faith, and it is all about the Lord Jesus Christ. It makes one want to sing.
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath bro't me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun.
— John Newton
WHEN FAITH DOES NOT SAVE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 9, 2020
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
— John 8:31-59, ESV
The second of five pillars of the Great Reformation is “Sola Fide,” or “Faith Alone” saves. This distinguishes Reformed churches from Roman Catholicism, which touts faith plus sacraments, and Churches of Christ, which preach faith plus baptism, and the contemporary Church of Oprah, which believes any belief will do as long as you are a good person.
While I would not leave the Reformed tradition to embrace any of the above religions, I must confess they have a point. While I support the second pillar of “Faith Alone,” I confess there is a faith that does not save. It is not faith alone, but a faith that remains alone, unaccompanied by biblical obedience, genuine repentance, spiritual disciplines, and a pattern of good works.
Such is the superficial faith that plagued many Israelites of the Old Covenant, whose lips gave service to God but whose hearts were far from Him. It is the unsaving faith of modern day revivalism, which woos people down an aisle to make an emotional decision for Christ, which wears off as soon as the emotion dies down. It is the worthless faith without works criticized by Paul and James in the New Testament. It is the faith that is aptly illustrated by fickle followers of Jesus during His last days at His last Feast of Tabernacles.
Faith does not save when it is not accompanied by obedience to the word of God.
Apparently the Lord had made a big impression upon people in Jerusalem. His astounding claims of possessing living water and true light, backed up by three years worth of miracles and messages, had prompted a profession of faith from many. So they came forward at the end of the festival, like a crowd streaming down the aisles of a Billy Graham crusade or a Baptist church revival, and Jesus counseled with them.
Jesus’ first word to those making profession of faith was, “If.” He did not have them fill out a pledge card, or write a date down in their Bibles to never doubt, or give them any other kind of false assurance. He admonished them to prove it. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but salvation is not a profession of faith alone. It is a proven faith.
Jesus made the following declarative statements: “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples” (vs. 31); “Whoever is of God hears the words of God” (vs. 47); “If anyone keeps My word, he will never see death” (vs. 51); and, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (ref. John 14:15). Consider the converse of those statements. Look at what the Gospel writer John wrote later, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (ref. 1 John 2:3-4).
The only way to prove that faith alone has saved you is to prove your faith is not alone. It is accompanied by obedience to the word of God, the Bible. The commandments in Scripture are relatively clear and uncomplicated. Those who profess faith in Christ are to be baptized into the membership of the church. They should attend public worship on the Lord’s Day and always put God first in their hearts. They should subject their speech, their sexual morals, their home, and their habits to the Lordship of Christ and the word of God. A Christian cannot achieve perfection is this life, for such belongs only to Christ, but he or she will be committed, obedient, and faithful to the faith they profess in the Lord Jesus Christ. If not, then they have a faith that does not save.
Faith does not save when there is no repentance from sin.
The opposite of saving faith and its ensuing faithfulness to God is an unsaving faith marked by the perpetual practice of sin. It is a faith without repentance, which is all too common in our modern Christian culture.
Jesus’ first sermon was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (ref. Matthew 3:17). He also said, “Unless you repent, you will perish” (ref. Luke 13:3,5). Repentance is a change of mind and heart that turns away from sinful habits and toward faithful obedience to the Lord. Again, repentance is not perfection, but it is the practice of holiness rather than the practice of selfish sins, like spending Sundays for yourself instead of God, or engaging in repeated sexual immorality, or spending your life striving for money and material things at the expense of a spiritual and faithful life.
The bad news about the common man is that he is depraved, spiritually dead, powerless to fight against sin and selfish pleasures. The good news about the gospel, when brought home by the Holy Spirit with true faith and repentance, is that, in Jesus words, it will “set you free” (vs. 32) from being that person “who practices sin [as] a slave to sin” (vs. 34).
The people professing faith in Jesus on this day denied their need for repentance, for freedom from the slavery of sin, of needing to be washed clean of wrong and empowered to do right. They did not repent. They did not obey. They looked like a great number of contemporary church members today. They have a faith that does not save.
Faith does not save when it clings to religion rather than the gospel.
Not every lost church member blows off church attendance. Some of them don’t miss a Sunday. Some of them have memorized sections of Scripture. Some of them get elected to church leadership positions. But like the false believers in Jesus’ day, these people have faith in religion, not in the real gospel of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The people who came forward to profess faith on this day were Jews, staunchly practicing their Jewish religion. They were at the required Festival. They were in and around the right Temple. They clung to the right patriarch, Abraham, the literal grandfather of Israel. But when presented with the full gospel, the gospel of faith in God’s Son that requires faithfulness to God’s word, they let go of any acceptance, affection, or allegiance to Jesus Christ.
They fell back on their religious commitment instead. Since they could say, “Abraham is our father” (vs. 39), they could claim God as their Father, too (vs. 41). They did not need a personal relationship with Jesus. They thought their membership in the Jewish faith would be enough to earn them acceptance with God.
I am an obituary reader, morbid though it may seem. And though I do not mean to be as critical as this may sound, I am always dismayed when someone is eulogized as being of the Baptist faith, or the Methodist faith, or the Catholic faith, or any other denomination or tradition. Being Jewish cannot save any Jew who rejects Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, nor is salvation found in being a Baptist or Methodist or Catholic or whatever. If your faith is in religion rather than the person and work of Jesus Christ, then you have a faith that does not save.
Faith does not save when it attacks Christ or true Christians.
Not all unbelievers and false believers overtly attack true believers. But, it is common, and proof that a person is no closer to God than Pluto is to the Sun. When Jesus told those who professed faith in Him that they really had no faith at all, they went on the attack.
First they said to the Lord, “You are a Samaritan” (vs. 48), the equivalent of a racial slur. Then they said Jesus was demon possessed (vs. 48, 52), which was blasphemy. At the end of the day, “They picked up stones to throw at Him” (vs. 59). But it was not Jesus’ time to die, not for another few months, so their attack failed and they all fell away to resume their lives without saving faith.
I have been under attack in every place I have ever served. It is not because I preach false doctrine, but because I preach the true gospel of real repentance, genuine faith, and persevering obedience to the word of God. It is not because I violated the church constitution and bylaws, but because I reformed them to be congruent with the Scriptures. It is not because under my watch people were not added to the church rolls, but because I removed people from the church rolls who were living in sin or forsaking the church. I have been called a legalist and I have been called a liberal. I have been called a goody two shoes and I have been called that drinking and dancing preacher. I have seen my family’s faith grow during these trials and I have watched family members abandon the faith because of the pressure.
But my problems pale in comparison to those endured by the Lord Jesus Christ. He suffered rejection by the Jews in this story, and the vast majority of mankind rejects Him still. He escaped stoning here but He could not, He would not, escape the pain and death of the cross.
Jesus was, is, and always will be the eternal God and only Savior. Yet true, historic, and biblical Christianity has never been harder to find. This is in spite of the fact that most people in our culture claim to have faith. I’m afraid the faith they have, is a faith that does not save.
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 2, 2020
12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
— John 8:12-30, ESV
Light is the first commandment of God, “Let there be light” (ref. Genesis 1:3). Light is perhaps the most powerful substance in the universe, without which we would be frozen and blind. Light is used as one of the most enduring symbols known to man, always speaking of something good, often a symbol of God.
“Yahweh (the Lord) is my light,” (ref. Psalm 27:1) wrote David in the Old Testament psalm. “God is light,” John wrote in his first New Testament epistle, “and in Him is no darkness at all” (ref. 1 John 1:5).
So imagine Jerusalem’s surprise when the preacher from Galilee, pushed down in public opinion polls by the Pharisees, months away from His humiliating arrest, conviction, and condemnation, stood up and proclaimed, “I am the light of the world.”
This is the second of seven great “I Am” statements made by Jesus and recorded in the Gospel of John. They are all bold, they are all the gospel in a nutshell, and they all light the way to God. But this one may be the most powerful and personal of them all.
The Light of the World is God
Once again we are looking at Jesus on His last days at His last Feast of Tabernacles. The annual festival featured two foundational rituals. One of them involved water, when the high priest would carry a golden bucket of water from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple and pour it out upon the altar. Jesus capitalized earlier on that one to offer the masses “living water” (ref. John 7:38).
The second ritual involved light. Each night four golden oil-filled lamps lifted seventy feet high would illuminate the Temple grounds. The water symbolized the provision of God and the light celebrated the presence of God.
The light of the world is God. He is light, He gives light, and without Him there would be no light. For the Israelites, not believing in God would be like not believing in light.
Everyone believes in light. You can see it, feel it, experience it. But where does light come from? Light predates the switch, the inventor Thomas Edison, the experimenter Benjamin Franklin, and the first cave man to ever spark a fire. It goes back to creation, and someone had to be the first one to turn it on. The very presence of light leads us to pursue belief in an original and personal God.
In the Old Testament, one expressed his or her faith in God by believing in a sacred promise. It was the promise of “Immanuel” (ref. Isaiah 7:14), God with us. This is the promise of the Messiah. This is what the water and the light anticipated at the Feast of Tabernacles.
Now in this New Testament age, one expresses his or her faith in God by believing in a sacred promise about a specific person. He is God with us. He is the Messiah. He gives the living water of God the Spirit and He shines the light of the God the Father. He is God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Light of the World is Jesus
Jesus made a splash at the water ritual by proclaiming Himself as the promised Messiah with living water to give. Now He dares go even farther, standing near the light of four giant menorahs, claiming to be “the light of the world.” Everyone understood what Jesus was saying, whether they believed Him or not.
The unbelievers struck first. Represented by the Pharisees, they challenged Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah by accusing Him of self-promotion, of being the sole witness to His success. They actually had a point in that the Old Testament required two or more witnesses to make a legitimate claim.
They could have called Simon Peter to the stand as the second witness, but they did not know Simon Peter. They could have called any number of Galileans who had learned to trust Jesus, but the snobbish Jerusalem Jews did not know any Galileans. They could have called God to testify, but as Christ told them, they did not know God. Unbelievers do not know God, and they often attack those who do.
The only way to know God today is to repent from a worldly point of view believe in someone who is not of this world, namely the Lord Jesus Christ. He shines the light of the Creator, the Father, Yahweh, the great “I Am.” He shares the light by claiming “I Am the light.” And He spreads the light of the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit. God — Father, Son, and Spirit — is light and to know Him is to come out of the darkness.
But it is Jesus, God the Son, who shines the light in such a way you can see it. People walked with Him in life. People were standing there at His death. People close to Him witnessed His resurrection and ascension up to Heaven. This story of Jesus is the light of the gospel.
The Light of the World is the Gospel
The gospel is the good news of God’s salvation, wrought by the person and work of Jesus Christ. By grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, a person can know God, become a child of God, be forgiven of all sin, and inherit eternal life. But the gospel is hard for people to believe, because unbelieving people live in darkness. It is impossible for them to seen, unless God’s grace turns on the light of faith for them.
Let’s see if this story has flipped four light switches for you.
Do you see Jesus as the Son of David, the promised Messiah?
Do you see Jesus as the Son of God, coming from the Father, from above to earth in order to make a way for those on earth to go above to Heaven?
Do you see Jesus as perfect, sinless, always pleasing the Father, and the only suitable sacrifice for sinners?
Do you see Jesus high and lifted up as He prophesied here, up upon on the cross, up from the grave, and ascended up into Heaven?
Like the four giant menorah at the Feast of Tabernacles, all four of these lights should come on for you if you are enraptured by grace and endued with faith by the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The light is God, the light is the Lord Jesus Christ, the light is the gospel, and the light is, you, if you truly believe.
The Light of the World is You
Though Jesus staked this claim near the end of His earthly life, “The light of the world” harkens back to something the Lord said at the beginning of His ministry. In His famous “Sermon on the Mount” He told His future followers this: “You are the light of the world” (ref. Matthew 5:14).
Of the seven “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John, this is the only one that applies to both Christ and the Christian. The most staunch and strong believer in Jesus cannot be for others the bread, or the door, or the good shepherd, or the resurrection, or the way and truth and life, or the true vine. But once we have received the light from the Lord, we shine it for others to see and follow.
If you are a skeptic or scoffer, or if you believe but only nominally and superficially, or if you admit you like the darkness you are living in because you do not want your sins exposed by the light, I beg you to let the light of Jesus Christ shine on you. Yes, you will have to repent of those sins, you will have to commit to Christ and obey God’s word, you will have to change and be challenged every day. But, you will live, by the light, and not die in darkness.
If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ, do not hide your light. Like the simple song says, let it shine, don’t let Satan blow it out, and don’t hide it. Live a life of light, publicly worshiping and serving your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org