John 10:7-11 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. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Good morning and merry Christmas!
For Christmas to fall on a Sunday or Monday is particularly special. It’s special since it only happens every few years and since it means that our worship service gets to take on an even more powerful air. I’m grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s coming with you all on this day.
My aim this morning is simple: to provide you with Christmas celebration fuel. But where do we get Christmas celebration fuel? It mainly comes from the bible. Where in the bible? Certainly in the Gospels where the Christmas story is recorded. There we get to look on in awe at the events surrounding God becoming flesh. Anywhere else? In a few OT passages that predict Christmas and speak of its glory. There we see that the incarnation was God’s plan all along; that he had planned to save his people from their sins from the moment they first sinned. Is that all? No. The bible is actually filled with passages which provide Christmas celebration fuel. In fact, some of the most powerful Christmas fuel of all is found in places you might not have ever thought of as Christmas passages. Consider the following verses in this light:
Matthew 9:13 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
Luke 12:49 I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
John 9:39 For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.
1 Timothy 1:15 Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners
Galatians 3:24 Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
Christmas is, of course, the good news of Jesus coming to earth. Each of these verses are Christmas verses, then, in that they speak of a particular reason for Jesus’ coming. In other words, they’re Christmas verses because they answer the question: What’s Christmas for? In understanding how they answer that question we find a great deal of Christmas celebration fuel in them. That is, the more God reveals to us about the amazing nature and implications of the Christmas story, the more reason we have to celebrate in earnestness.
This sermon flows from a different, but similar Christmas passage, John 10:7-11. In it we find that Jesus came (that Christmas happened) so that God’s people could have an abundance of life. For your Christmas joy, to amplify your Christmas celebrations, to direct your Christmas affections, to fill up your Christmas celebration fuel tanks, therefore, I want to answer three questions from the text this morning. 1) What does it mean to have life abundantly, 2) Why don’t we already have it, and 3) Where does an abundance of life come from.
With that, let’s pray and ask God to open his Word to us, that we may live as he intends.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE LIFE ABUNDANTLY?
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what you really want your life to be like? That is, do you have a clear picture in your mind of what your life would look like if you were able to make it any way you like? If everything in your life were exactly as you wanted it, what would it consist of? These are just different ways of asking the question of what you consider the fullest, or most desirable, or most abundant life.
What’s the first thing you’d change? Something from your past? Something about your future trajectory? Your present health? Your looks? Your finances? Your education? Your family situation? Your spiritual life? What would you focus on second? Third? And, of course, what would your life look like when you were all done designing your life?
If you had a good job, an attractive appearance, an enviable home in a pleasant neighborhood, a healthy, happy family, a sharp mind, and a comfortable retirement saving; if you could eat whatever you want and not gain weight, run a marathon in a respectable time, have everyone in your life be happy to go to church together, and take a Facebook-worthy vacation once or twice every year; if you knew that you and those closest to you would die peacefully, surrounded by loved ones at a ripe old age without memory problems or significant suffering before going to a place of even greater comfort and ease and pleasure; would you take it? Can you imagine a more abundant life than that? Does a fuller life exist in your mind?
In John 10:10 we see that Christmas exists (in part) in order to answer these questions for you. In that verse, Jesus declared that he came (was born on Christmas), in part, in order that his people would “have life and have it abundantly.” That is, Jesus came that his people would experience fullness of life. But what, specifically, does that mean? What was/is an abundance of life according to Jesus?
He gives a clue in v.9. “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” But what does that mean? What does it mean to have an abundance of life and to find pasture?
The most straight forward answer to that question, though, is found in John 17:3 where Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” That is, fullness of life is, in its most basic form, knowing God; which is to say knowing all that God is and is for us in Jesus; knowing God is to worship God; knowing God means living in perfect, satisfying communion with God.
To really understand what that means, however, let’s back up a bit.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. All that was made, God made in the beginning. Further, all that God made in the beginning was very good. That is to say, all that God created harmoniously functioned in the ways, and for the reasons, God created them. The pinnacle of God’s creation, and that which was most able to understand and experience and live out God’s glory, was mankind.
God made man such that God and man coexisted in the Garden God had made for man. There was no sickness, no disease, no sadness, no futility, no loneliness, no death, no curse, no struggle, no lack of any kind. There was only joy, peace, contentment, efficiency, productivity, love, harmony, health, abundance, and fellowship between God and man, man and man, and man and the rest of creation.
God knew man and man knew God. God and man walked and talked together in perfect communion. The blessing of God (especially his presence) was all that man knew. All the work of mankind produced fruit. And all the desires of man’s heart were righteous and met. In this garden, mankind had life and had it abundantly.
What’s more, there’s another garden that the bible talks about. It is everything that the first garden was and more, for it is an everlasting garden (Hebrews 13:14). In this garden are mansions for its inhabitants (John 14:2). In this garden are blessings beyond anything anyone has ever seen, heard, or imagined (1 Corinthians 2:9). This is a garden of feasts and banquets (). This garden has a river and a tree of life from which we may drink and eat and be satisfied. Everything accursed is absent from this garden. In this garden there is no created light and no shadow, for God’s glory shines in every corner. In this garden we will know God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit (Revelation 22:1-5). Indeed, we will see God face to face, speak to him as one man speaks to another, and know him in a fuller way than ever before (1 Corinthians 13:12). This garden is called “paradise” (Luke 23:43). This garden is filled with treasure (Matthew 6:19-21). All that is good will be there and will never parish, be defiled, fade, or be taken from us (1 Peter 1:4). All that we were made to be, we will delight to be, all that we were designed to do, we will delight to do, and all that we were fashioned to love we will delight to love forever.
This is the fullness of life. This is what Jesus meant when he said “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This is the point of Christmas. Again, then, whatever you considered to be the fullest life before you came in here today, know that Christmas exists that you might have fullness of life in ways far beyond anything you’ve ever imagined.
Clearly, however, this is not how we exist today. Most of the time it’s obvious that we live in the wilderness, rather than the garden. What happened? Why are we not still in the garden? Why are we not experiencing an abundance of life?
WHY DON’T WE ALREADY HAVE LIFE IN ABUNDANCE?
Our passage for this morning answers this question directly. Look back at vs. 8-10. We are no longer in the garden and lack lives of abundance and fullness because thieves and robbers came into the garden and stole, killed, and destroyed.
John 10:8-10 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.
In the context of this passage the robbers and thieves are the religious leaders of the day; a group known as the Pharisees. Throughout John’s Gospel we find Jesus working and teaching according to the will of God, inviting his listeners to receive an abundance of life, only to be mocked and harassed and censured (and eventually crucified) by these men..
Jesus said that “the sheep did not listen to them”. What he meant was his true followers stopped listening to them when they heard his voice. The Pharisees had taught a corrupted and deadly message of salvation for generations which had done much to steal, kill, and destroy. But when Jesus, the true shepherd, came things began to change.
Why are we not experiencing the fullness of life we were made for? Certainly because we’ve been given a deficient explanation of the will of God by godless men, but there’s a deeper answer to our question though. There was an original thief and a robber who preceded and fathered all other robbers and thieves; who stole, killed, and destroyed in a far more serious and deadly way.
Genesis 3:1-23 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths… 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.
We are not in the garden and not experiencing the fullness of life for which we were made because this thief, this wicked serpent, deceived Adam and Eve into sin which in turn stole their innocence, killed their souls, and destroyed their fellowship with God. God, therefore, drove them out of the garden and out of fullness of life as the just penalty for their rebellion.
Not only were Adam and Eve removed from the garden and sentenced to death (rather than an abundance of life), but the bible clearly states that the garden would be closed and death would reign for all their decedents too; until the time would come when the serpent crusher would come from their children.
The Pharisees phariseed and the false teachers of the early church taught falsely and the prosperity gospel preachers of today spew messages of spiritual poverty—that is to say they entice us to sin which continues to steal, kill, and destroy—because they are following the first robber and thief.
At the heart of all of this, however, is the fact that because our souls have been corrupted by Adam’s treachery, we only have appetites for what the world offers. These religious leaders are good at peddling the world’s goods, but they can only sell them because our sinful souls desire to buy them.
And all of that is why life is hard. That is why so much of what we experience is futility and vanity. That is why there is death and decay. That is why we experience loneliness and suffering. That is why we experience incompleteness and lack rather than the satisfaction and fullness of life. We were made for a garden of abundance but because of sin (and those who sell it) we live in a wilderness of brokenness.
What does all of this have to do with Christmas? Once again, Christmas happened so that we can get back to the garden; so we can get back into the fellowship and pleasure of God; so that we can again know the fullness of life.
WHERE DOES AN ABUNDANCE OF LIFE COME FROM?
Finally, then, how does Christmas bring back the abundance of life that the serpent (through sin) and all his followers stole, killed, and destroyed? Again, the text answers our question plainly.
In vs.7 and 9 Jesus tells his hearers that he is the door and all who enter through him will be saved and restored to fullness of life. All other doors lead to continued futility, death, and destruction. Jesus alone leads to life and life abundantly.
In v.11 he says it a little differently. Instead of a door he says he is a good shepherd. All who accept him as the one to know, lead, feed, and protect them will find the green pasture and calm water of fullness of life—the kind we saw earlier.
But how does this work? How is Jesus able to restore us from the grip and death of the sin fed to us by thieves and robbers? The answer is also in our text. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to seal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
The thief came to steal. Jesus came to return. The thief came to destroy and Jesus came at Christmas to restore. The thief came to kill and Jesus came to be killed. Because of our sin, the only way for us to have an abundance of life was for Jesus to abandon his.
The serpent tempted Adam and Eve. His aim was to steal, kill, and destroy. As Adam and Eve gave into this temptation and sinned against God the serpent succeeded. The wages of such a decision for Adam and Eve was death. Jesus came to take our death upon himself; therein crushing death and the head of the one who caused it.
An abundance of life doesn’t come from trying to find the way back into the garden on our own, it comes following the bloody shepherd who knows the way because he is the way. All that we were made to be and know and experience and love doesn’t come back to us through wishing it would, it comes when we follow Jesus who knows the door because he is the door. The fullness of life that Christmas is all about doesn’t come from planting a new garden, denying the garden ever existed, or pretending we’re still in the garden, it comes from trusting in the one who died outside the garden to bring us back into it. That’s Christmas—the coming of the bloody shepherd, the door of life, the crucified savior, in order to give us the fullness of life we were made for.
What does all of this mean? In what way will this fuel our Christmas celebrations? Genuine celebrations come from genuine gratitude, thanksgiving, amazement, awe. Any genuine understanding of life completely outside the garden (hell)—the life we all deserve—contrasted with life entirely and eternally back inside the garden (heaven)—the life we receive in Jesus—is far more than enough to cause great joy for all the people.
Walking in the knowledge of what we were made for, what we’ve chosen instead, the just consequences of our sinful choices, and what awaits us in Jesus is what Christmas is about. It’s why Jesus came. It’s the only thing truly worth celebrating and the rocket fuel of any genuine Christmas celebration.
We’ll celebrate well today (and every day) when we live in the knowledge that while we deserve the wilderness, in Jesus we will get the garden. We celebrate well when we live in such a way that makes plain that we were not made for the wilderness and its fruit, but for the garden and its. We celebrate well when we live in such a way that we do not follow thieves and robbers, but the Good shepherd. We celebrate well when we live in such a way that longs for the fullness of life that Christ purchased for us and as ones who will certainly have it. That is why Jesus came and that is what makes Christmas worth celebrating in the highest.