Perhaps you have heard the terms 'modernism' and 'postmodernism' and wondered what they meant. One point of distinction between them is that modernism asked the question 'what is truth?' expecting that somewhere truth could be found, even if it turned out to be different from the traditional concept of truth. Postmodernism, on the other hand, lives in the darkness of the assumption that because there is no such thing as 'truth' you don't even look for it.
To the despair and irresponsibility of this meaninglessness the Bible records the bold words of Jesus Christ: 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life' (John 8:12) and 'I am ... the truth ... ' (John 14:6). Jesus Christ also said: 'If you hold to my teaching ... you will know and the truth will set you free' (John 8:31,32).
These are exclusive words, but they are also liberating - setting those who believe them free from the dark vacuum of postmodernism, and filling the whole of life with purpose and significance.
The twenty-third Psalm has been loved by Christians through the ages. In its use of the Shepherd figure it assures us of God's tender and personalized love for us: 'the Lord is my Shepherd ... '.
This shepherd concept of God is also taught in Isaiah 40:11:
'He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.'
In Ezekiel, when God had reason to rebuke those who should have been caring for his people he promised: '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. I will rescue them ... I will pasture them ... I myself will tend my sheep ... I will search for the lost and bring back the strays ... I will shepherd my flock with justice ... ' (34:11-16).
In John 10:10 Jesus said: 'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.' A little while later he said: 'My sheep hear my voice ... I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand' (10:27,28).
Together these verses give us deep assurance of two foundational facts:  that Jesus Christ is indeed the Old Testament Lord, and  that our salvation, our relationship with him, is secure in his hands.
Many years ago one of my uncles said to me: 'Show me this God you believe in, Rosie, and I'll believe in him.'
I wish that I had at that time understood the deep significance of what I already knew. If I had, I would have answered: 'Look at Jesus Christ, and you will see God.'
Jesus said: 'I and the Father are one ... when a man looks at me, he sees the one who sent me ... anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.'
Paul wrote that Christ 'is God over all.'
John wrote of him 'He is the true God.'
This is the primary and central issue of the Christian message to the world: that in the person of Jesus Christ we stand face to face with the true God. Here the darkness of our human ignorance of God is banished. Here we see God. Here we know God.
[Scriptures: John 10:30; 12:45; 14:9; Romans 9:5; 1 John 5:20]
Where are you focused?
Is the centre of your spiritual life yourself and your own spiritual achievements? Or is the centre of your life Jesus Christ?
Do you practise your religion because you are trying to gain or maintain your relationship with God? Or, does your religious life flow out from your knowledge of God and your desire to honour and obey him because of his great and unexpected love for you which he demonstrated in Jesus Christ?
If you are self-focused you will never know the deepest joy nor the surest peace that you could have if you were to focus on Jesus Christ, and trust not in yourself but in him alone.
[Scripture: Jeremiah 9:23,24; Philippians 3:1-9]
Perhaps one of the most well-known and well-loved parts of the Bible is the twenty-third Psalm. This song begins: 'The LORD is my shepherd.'
In Psalm 80:1 and Isaiah 40:11 God is again portrayed as a shepherd; and in another, less read, part of the Bible God speaks at length of himself as the Shepherd: in Ezekiel 34, having spoken against those who were supposed to be 'shepherds' of God's people, God says: 'I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock ... so will I look after my sheep' (11-12), 'I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. ... I will shepherd the flock ... ' (16).
In a startling and emphatic announcement in John 10:11 Jesus stated 'I am the good shepherd ... '. Not just a good shepherd, but 'the shepherd, the good one' (literal translation, italics added). In no uncertain terms Jesus here identifies himself with the Shepherd of the Old Testament - with God himself.
In a flow-on from this conversation (John 10:22-33) when Jesus again assumes this identity as Shepherd, it is not surprising that he should state as his concluding point: 'I and the Father are one' (10:30).
Nor is it surprising that this identification of himself with God provoked his listeners to attempt to kill him on the charge of blasphemy.
In this claim of Jesus to be 'the good shepherd' each one of us is challenged. Do we stand with those who recognize his claim, and believe that he is God? Or we among those who, rejecting his claim, reach down and pick up the stones?
In John 10:30 Jesus said: 'I and the Father are one.'
What did he mean? Was he, as some suggest, speaking merely of similarity or unity of mind or purpose? Or was he speaking of an essential unity and identity of being and nature? Was he saying here what he said later to the disciples, that when we know him we know God, when we see him we see God? (John 14:6-9).
If we look at the reaction of those who were present we will find the answer: 'the Jews picked up stones to stone him' (10:31). When Jesus asked them why they were stoning him, they replied 'for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God' (10:33). These Jews had immediately grasped the significance of Jesus' words, recognizing them as a claim to deity. The same thing happened in John 5:18, where they understood that when Jesus called God 'my Father' he was claiming for himself equality with God.
Rather than back off and deny that he made such a claim, Jesus actually intensified his claim (5:19-27; 10:34-38), exposing himself to further attack (10:39).
On the lips of an ordinary man these words would indeed be the sin of blasphemy. The Jews were right about that. But here is no ordinary man. And here is no ordinary god.
Here is a God who walks incognito and rejected among the rebellious and shattered fragments of his creation. This God 'became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory ... ' (John 1:14).
In yet another of his amazing claims Jesus Christ said: 'I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved' (John 10:9).
He brings to our minds here the picture of an ancient sheep-fold in which there was no gate and no door - only an opening. At night the shepherd himself lay down in the opening. No sheep could get out past him. Nor could any thief or predatory animal get past him and into the fold to harm or destroy the sheep. He, himself, was the 'gate' or the 'door'.
By this simple image Jesus teaches us  that he is the entry point into life in the presence of God, and  he keeps us safe and secure from spiritual harm. This security that those who believe in him have in Christ is expressed later in this chapter: 'My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand' (John 10:27-29).
Let us take hold of the assurance that our Lord Jesus Christ gives to us here, and live with him with a peace and joy in our hearts that is grounded in his love and his faithfulness, and not dependent on our physical circumstances.
Our focus this week is on another of the exclusive, absolute claims made by Jesus Christ about himself. In John 5:22-23 Jesus stated that the Father 'has entrusted all judgement to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.'
The meaning is clear: Jesus believed that God the Father's intention and purpose is that he, Jesus, the Son of God, should receive the same honor as God, the Father. But in the Old Testament God insisted that he alone has the right to be honored: 'I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another ... ' (Isaiah 42:8), ' ... I will not yield my glory to another' (Isaiah 48:11); and he claimed that he alone is God: 'I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God' (Isaiah 44:6), ' ... Surely God is with you, and there is no other; there is no other god' ' ... I am the LORD, and there is no other' (Isaiah 45:14,18).
Yet here in John 5 Jesus claims for himself identical honor to the honor given to God. Not only this. He went on to say: 'He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him' (John 5:23b). This is perhaps one of the most powerful claims that Jesus made: that if we are not honoring him (in the same way we honor the Father) then we are actually not honoring the Father. This statement stands as an indictment against all worship of God that denies equal honor to Jesus Christ. It is either the statement of an extremely egotistical person, or of a fool, or of one who actually had the right to make this claim.
In Romans 1:4 we read that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead powerfully declares that he is indeed the Son of God, and therefore, by inference, God (which Paul states in Romans 9:5).
In what way does the resurrection prove that Jesus is God? The resurrection affirms all of the claims Jesus made to equality and identity with God because, if these were invalid, and therefore sinful, Jesus would have been a sinner and death would have justly held him, for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The fact that Jesus rose from the dead indicates that death had no right to hold him personally because he had no personal sin. If he had no personal sin then all of his claims were true, he is who he claimed he is, and he is to be honored as God.
Have you noticed the absolute, exclusive nature of the claims made by Jesus Christ? His claims always identify him as the one and only.
As we saw last week, he is the one and only source of complete spiritual satisfaction (John 6:35). He also claimed to be the one and only source of complete truth about God: 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life' (John 8:12), and 'I am ... the truth' (John 14:6). The clear inference is that if we do not follow Christ we are walking in darkness.
In an exclusive and cutting statement he also said: ' ... no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him' (Matthew 11:27). Impacting us with the same truth he said: 'When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness' (John 12:44-46).
This claim of Jesus Christ to be the exclusive, absolute light and truth finds its final expression in John 14:7 & 9: 'If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. ... Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father"?' The simple meaning of these words is that when we look at Jesus Christ we are seeing not just some one like God, but God himself.
John concludes his first letter with this impactive statement about Jesus Christ: 'He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols' (1 John 5:20,21). In these words all of our human ideas about who and what God is, are designated 'idols', and we are taught that the only valid 'god' concept is that which is identical to Jesus Christ. He is the true God. If anyone wants to see and know God, tell them 'Look at Jesus Christ. There you will see God. There you will know God.'
Jesus said: 'whoever ever drinks the water I give him will never thirst' (John 4:14a) and 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty' (John 6:35).
Together these two statements affirm that Jesus Christ is the source of permanent spiritual satisfaction and completeness. This is true because of two fundamental facts:  that a person who knows Jesus Christ knows the one, true God, and  the person who believes in Jesus Christ and comes to him, is in that believing and that coming reconnected to the one source of eternal spiritual life.
The alienation, the aloneness, and the loss of identity and meaning that tug at our souls are reversed and overcome when we connect to Jesus Christ. He, the one, true God, is both our Source and our Goal. In union with him, we are complete. It was to make this reunion with God legally possible and legally valid that Jesus died his sin-bearing substitutionary death.
[Scriptures: 1 John 5:20; Colossians 1:16b; 2:10; Romans 3:25-31]
Trapped inescapably in time and physical space we often have distorted perceptions and expectations about the significance both of ourselves and of our circumstances. We view reality in a time-bound, self-centred, self-focused way, and often it all becomes more than we can handle. Fear. Anger. Frustration. Despair. Grief. Hopelessness. All of these emotions and more take over our minds and rule our lives.
There is a way to escape from the dominance these tortured emotions: to let the Word of God teach us His perspective: to learn that His view of reality is not time-bound like ours: He lives outside of time, in eternity (Is 57:15 KJV; 2Pe 3:8); to learn that things that seem huge to us, are miniscule to Him, He sees the total picture: to Him the nations are like a drop in a bucket (Isaiah 40:12-31); to learn that what we see as impossible, He is more than able to do: nothing is to hard for Him (Mat 19:26; Lu 1:37).
At the time of Jesus Christ's death, his disciples were overwhelmed. They did not remember or understand his word that he would rise alive out of death. It was outside of their earth-bound perceptions and expectations. But he did rise. Alive. The impossible, the unexpected, the unheard of, did happen.
Even so God works in our lives, in our circumstances. Just as He brought life out of death, even so can He bring hope out of despair, joy out of sorrow, meaning out of chaos.
In His time. In His way. Such is His love. Such is the greatness of His power.
In the light of the dramatic event currently impacting our world, the person who knows Jesus Christ cannot say 'It is the will of God.' The fact that this tragedy has occurred does mean that God willed it.
Rather, we must say: 'This is the will of man' - a result of the common historic rebellion of mankind against the rightful authority and rule of God, who in His very first prohibition, identified death as the outcome of the human choice to sin (Genesis 2:17).
God's will is for our life - not our death (Deuteronomy 30:19-20; Isaiah 25:8; Ezekiel 18:30-32; John 10:10b; 2 Peter 3:9).
God's will is for us to live in peaceful relationship with Him, with each other, and within the inner recesses of our own individual being (Isaiah 53:5; Luke 2:14; John 14:27; Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:14-18; 2 Thess. 3:16).
God's will is that love should rule, not anger (Matthew 5:38-48; Ephesians 4:25-5:2).
God's will is that we should respect all human beings as potential bearers of His image, rather than treat human life with contempt (Genesis 9:5-6; Matthew 5:21-24).
Our current tragedy is not God's will: His will so supercedes this product of human will that He can and will take it and in keeping with His limitless love and power, He will use it to create good. The undeniable proof of that is the good He brings forth out of the extreme tragedy of the death of Jesus Christ his Son. Out of that death comes eternal life for billions. So also in this current tragedy we can trust God to work for good (Genesis 50:19-20; Romans 8:28).
The compassion of Jesus Christ radiates from the Gospel of Luke: we see him in the waiting father embracing the returning prodigal; we see him grieving when the older brother cannot, will not, share his joy; we see him overwhelming the despised Zacchaeus with unqualified acceptance; we see his quiet understanding as the prostitute washes his feet with her tears; we see him with deep empathy touching the untouchable.
And what of us? Let us not think for a moment that he does not love us just as much, just as freely.
[Scriptures: Luke 15,19,7 & 5]