Saturday, September 12, 2009

Slipping Stones

My feet start to slip coming down the mountain. From the pinnacle of God's grace and presence, I now find myself starting to slip toward the ravine of self-pity. I loose my footing and slip off the path.
On the way down, I grab for a boulder, named self-sufficiency, but my grip isn't strong enough to hold my weight. I try to hold on tighter but eventually I let go, my arms aching from the pressure of my own weight.
I try desperately to get back on the path but lose my footing and continue to tumble. I grab for the next boulder on my way down, a boulder named guilt. This boulder holds my weight for a moment but eventually gives way and crushes me. I can't get up. I lay on the path for a moment before getting up only to slip again. A tiny pebble named distraction causes me stumble. My feet slide out from underneath me and I slide into a boulder named anger, I knock it and it tumbles down the other side of the mountain. This massive boulder crushes the fellow sojourners behind me. I desperately try to regain my footing and slow down the descent. I see one more bolder on the path before I slip over the edge into the ravine. This bolder is named sorrow. I grab for it and hold on. I know I don't have long.
I see a man in the distance. He sees me in my distress and runs towards me. As He gets closer I notice the blood on His hands and on His feet. I notice the sorrow on His face. He is a strong man so I let go of the boulder and fall into His arms. He asks me, "are you thirsty, my child"? I reply, "terribly thirsty". He gives me some water and carries me down the mountain. I hold onto Him tightly and beg Him not to let me go. He assures me of this and I rest. I relax in the arms of this man who is strong enough to carry me down the mountain. A man that willingly bore my sins and carried the burden of my iniquities. A man by the name of Jesus.
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. Isaiah 53:3-7

Picture taken by me in Joyce Kilmer National Park

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Gate

"I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10
A little background, Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath. The blind man was brought before the Pharisees and teachers of the law for questioning. The Sabbath is the Jewish day of rest where no work is to be done. The Pharisees threw the blind man out of the synagogue for telling the truth that Jesus did in fact heal him on the Sabbath and that he was indeed blind from birth. After being thrown out of the synagogue, Jesus found him and asked him, "do you believe in the Son of Man?", to which he replied, "Lord, I believe".
Some of the Pharisees' followed him out of the synagogue, in doing so they ran into, Jesus who was outside waiting to confront their hypocrisy, He states, "For judgement I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." John 9:39. The religious leaders responded,"What? Are we blind too?" Jesus answered,"If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains."
He goes on to say in John 10. "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a strangers voice." "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All whoever came before me were thieves and robbers ,but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd . The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. John 10:1-14
You see Jesus' audience was the religious leaders of his day and some of his followers. He was clearly stating who He was by claiming that He was the gate for the sheep. Jesus also states that he is the good shepherd. Jesus' sheep listen to his voice and follow him. They recognize false teaching, in fact they flee from it!
Let's jump back to the Old Testament to the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel lived during the time of the Jewish exile in Babylon. He was deported from Judah and taken captive to Babylon. All the Jews were living in captivity during the time of Ezekiel's prophecies. Ezekiel was written around 571 BC. 500 years before the birth of Christ.
You see, Ezekiel, claimed that there would be a shepherd who would care for his flock unlike the religious leaders of his day and the days leading up to Christ. The Pharisees' would have known what Christ was claiming by stating that he was the shepherd of the sheep. They would have realized that He was claiming to be the Messiah. They would have studied this very prophecy we are about to read. They probably knew the prophecy by heart but they refused to accept the testimony.
The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherd's take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
"Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I WILL RESCUE my FLOCK from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them. For I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. He goes on to say, I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. Ezekiel 34:1-11, 16
Are we still refusing to accept the testimony of who Jesus is and why he came? Ezekiel's prophecy was about the the coming Messiah the true shepherd who would come and take care of the people. Jesus tells us plainly in His word that He is the only way and that He is the great shepherd of the sheep referred to in Ezekiel.
He shows us His heart in these verses. His desire to care for us. His desire to look for us and to heal us. His desire to hide us in the cleft of the rock to shelter us from the storm. We have a compassionate, Great Shepherd, who yearns to care for us. Jesus is still searching for His sheep. He is still tending His flock. He still comes after those who have wandered off. How are you going to respond to him today? In Hebrews Paul tells us, that "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."
One Shepherd, One Flock, One King, All Nations!
"Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to LIFE, and only a few find it."
Jesus' words in Matthew 7: 13-14