22 August 2010 : Isaiah 53 & John 10 : 11-21

Last time we began to study the claim of Jesus to be the Good Shepherd, in stark contrast to the religious leaders of His own day, who failed abjectly in the primary task of the pastor, which is to feed the flock with the nourishing food of God’s Word, the Good News of how much God loves His people, and of the great plan and purpose God has for His people. That remains, to this very day, the No.1 priority of all who have a call to minister – feeding the flock with the Word of God’s love, mercy and grace.

That is the yardstick by which I, and my colleagues, shall be assessed in the courts of heaven, and every other aspect of ministry is subsidiary to that. The greatest visitor, the most avid fund-raiser, the most hilarious MC at weddings, the most active in political or social concerns, the most enthusiastic participant in Presbytery or General Assembly, great if that’s your thing, but in the end what really matters is teaching from the Word the truth that sets the people free. Beside that, everything else is an optional extra.

But for Jesus, it went beyond teaching. Far beyond. He lifted shepherding to a whole new level by laying down His life for His sheep. The ministry of Jesus in Galilee was a wonderful thing to behold. Luke 4 tells us that Jesus, doing pulpit supply in the synagogue at Capernaum, stood up and read the lesson from Isaiah 61 :

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favour has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. He then gave the shortest sermon on record : Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing : pronounced the blessing and left.

And for the next three years Jesus fulfilled that text. He brought the love of God, not just in words but in real tangible practical actions, to the people. Acts 10.38 says : Jesus of Nazareth went around doing good, healing the sick. I wouldn’t mind that verse being read at my funeral about me. And during those Galilee years, as Jesus enjoyed, by and large, high approval ratings – except in Nazareth, His home town, where familiarity with the boy bred contempt for the man – it was sunshine and roses all the way.

But Galilee was not to be where the climax of Jesus ministry unfolded. That had to be in Jerusalem, that teeming and tense city, where the Temple was, where the focus of the religious life of God’s people was, and as Jesus set His face toward the city, so the chill set in under the looming shadow of the cross. Ministry to some people, in some places, at some times, was one thing. Redemption, of all people, for all time, was the true goal.

For this purpose Christ was revealed, to destroy all the works of the devil. [1 John 3.8] Throughout the Old Testament, the people had brought sacrifices to their weekly act of worship – and, then as now, for many it was just that, an “act” – in order to fend off the wrath of God till next week. That was never God’s original plan, and was never good enough, for God’s people – but that’s a whole story for another day.

Suffice to say for the moment that Jesus came to make that sacrifice complete and universal, to set all people free, for all time, from all sin, and from all its consequences – guilt, disease, stress etc – past, present and future. God’s ultimate purpose for Jesus was to BE the sacrifice that released eternal redemption for the world.

Now, this morning, we’re going to dig quite deep – and if I’m going too fast for you, do NOT be embarrassed to ask me to stop and go back over something. This is one of the most important messages you will ever hear, so don’t miss any of it. It will go on the church website shortly to print off if you need it, OK?

In Genesis, we read that God made a covenant with Abraham, that he would become the father of many nations, that his descendants would be more than the stars in the sky, yet at that time Abraham was old enough for a free TV licence and his wife Sarah for a bus pass. And by the time their son Isaac came along, Abraham qualified for a telegram from the Queen. Abraham’s faith would surely be tested to breaking point already.

Yet in Genesis 22, we find Abraham instructed by God to take this long-awaited son and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah. Now you or I, at that point, might have been sorely tempted to tell God : Look mate, I’ve had enough playing games. This is going too far. Forget it. But Abraham didn’t. So great was his faith that he knew, deep down, that if he went along with this bizarre command, God would work it out OK.

So, even as Abraham took everything he needed for the sacrifice, he had faith to say to the household servants : Hold on to the donkeys, lads. My son and I are going up the hill to worship … and WE will be back. Do you hear that note of faith in there? Not – I will be back, but WE will be back. God had promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations, and Isaac was the fruit of that promise. Abraham had faith that God could not and would not lie, and somehow God HAD to find a way to save Isaac.

But God kept Abraham hanging on till the very last moment. Just as he was about to kill Isaac, God spoke : OK, Abraham. Stop right now. Don’t touch Isaac. I can see how faithful and obedient you are. I will supply the sacrifice. Abraham turned round, and there was a lamb caught on a bit of wood. He sacrificed the lamb on that hill, Mount Moriah, which was later known as Calvary. When Jesus went to Calvary, He became that sacrificial lamb, to save – not just Abraham’s one descendant at that time, Isaac, but all his descendants, more numerous than the stars in the sky.

The Good Shepherd became the sacrificial lamb. And the results of that sacrifice reach so much further than most of us have ever recognised. For every sin ever committed, from the Holocaust to a parking ticket, full forgiveness was released at the cross by the grace of God. There is nothing you have ever done, or said, or thought, or failed to do, that is beyond the forgiveness of Christ poured out on the world at Calvary.

If Galilee saw Jesus fulfil Isaiah 61, Calvary saw him fulfil Isaiah 53 :

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.

Because the Good Shepherd became the sacrificial Lamb for the sake of His flock, you and I may be 110% certain that ALL [not just some, not just the little ones, but ALL] our sins HAVE BEEN – not might be, or will be, but have been – forgiven … AND … ALL [not just some, but ALL] our illnesses and diseases HAVE BEEN – not might be, or will be, but have been – healed. That is what Isaiah prophesied, and Matthew 8.17 and 1 Peter 2.24 both confirm that prophesy to be fulfilled in Jesus. Is that clear?

To whom does this wonderful redeeming power of the Lamb who was slain belong? Potentially, to the whole world. That’s what the Bible teaches. 1 John 2.2 : Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 Peter 3.18 : Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. 2 Peter 3.9 : God does not want anyone to be lost, but he wants all people to change their hearts and lives. But does that mean all ARE saved? Sadly, no.

God in Christ has done absolutely everything to provide life, in abundance, to the full, till it overflows, for everyone who breathes, as a gift, by His grace. Ephesians 2.8f : God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this ; it is a gift from God. But God’s gift must be appropriated by faith : faith, as we have already seen, being the hallmark of Abraham. Trusting God, not our circumstances.

Galatians 3.13f : Christ took away the curse the law put on us. He changed places with us and put himself under that curse. It is written in the Scriptures, “Anyone whose body is hung on a tree is cursed.” Christ did this so that God’s blessing promised to Abraham might come through Jesus Christ to those who are not Jews. Jesus died so that by our believing we could receive the Spirit that God promised. Believe and receive. That’s it.

It really is as simple as that. Sometimes people want to make this whole Christianity thing so complicated and so airy-fairy and angst-ridden. It’s not. Jesus died to set you free from the curse of human disobedience. The way you move out of curse and into blessing is to believe in Jesus and receive from Him by faith. And as you walk out day by day that life, in abundance, to the full, till it overflows, you witness to those others spoken of in 1 John 2.2 who as yet haven’t believed and received and so are still under the curse. That is why we are here, to reach out to the lost sheep here and now.