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His Life for His Sheep

The Bible says that Jesus accomplished the salvation of those whom the Father has chosen. He did not just make possible salvation to all—sheep and goats alike—but he actually saved all the sheep.

Scripture Readings: Psalm 23; John 10:1-30; John 10:14-16 (text)

January 29, 2012 Download this sermon (PDF)

The Bible says that Jesus accomplished and perfected the salvation of his people from beginning to end. He did not just make salvation possible, but “he [really saved] his people from their sins.” He is also called “the Savior of the world,” because his death was sufficient to atone for the sins of every single person in the whole world. Because he is the Second Person of the Godhead—eternal and infinite—His atoning sacrifice was also of infinite value.

My God Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me by James Tissot, 1886-94 (click to enlarge)

My God Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me by James Tissot, 1886-94 (click to enlarge)

So the perennial question is: For whom did Christ actually die? Did he die for every man, woman and child who ever lived on this earth from Adam all the way to the end? Or did he die for particular individuals whom God had chosen for salvation? Let us think hard about this.

If Jesus died for all those people who are in hell right now, his death on the cross would be in vain. If I were Jesus, I would be protesting to the Father, “Why did you let me suffer and die on the cross for these people when you knew they would be going to hell?”

If unbelievers are being sent to hell as a punishment for their own sins, then God would be guilty of double jeopardy—punishing their sins twice—since Jesus was already punished for their sins.

Many people never hear the gospel. It would be very strange for God to intend to save all people by Christ’s death, but never tell many people about it so that they may be saved by it. If God intended that Jesus die for all people, but many still go to hell, then the death of Christ is a giant failure. God, then, is a giant failure.

God designed, targeted, and ordained the death of Christ to save particular—and a definite number—of individuals.

But let us go back to the Bible. Often in the Bible, the Lord is pictured as a shepherd with his sheep (Psa 23; John 10:11; Heb 13:20; 1Pet 2:25; 5:4). As well, sheep is often a picture of God’s people, such as in Matthew 25, where on Judgment Day, the sheep, who are the true believers, are separated from the goats, the unsaved. Isaiah likens all God’s people as sheep who have “gone astray” and “turned every one to his own way,” but in order to redeem them, “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6).

Today, our text will guide our study of the theme, “His Life for His Sheep” under three headings: (1) The Father’s Purpose in the Shepherd’s Sacrifice; (2) The Target of the Shepherd’s Sacrifice; and (3) The Spirit Assures No Sheep will be Lost.

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 24 summarizes the work of the Triune God in saving his people from sin and God’s wrath: “the first is of God the Father and our creation; the second, of God the Son and our redemption; the third, of God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.”

The Father’s Purpose in the Shepherd’s Sacrifice
We confess in the great ancient Athanasian Creed that our God is “Unity in Trinity” and “Trinity in Unity.” The Father, Son and Holy Spirit had one purpose and plan for the redemption of sinners. The Father elected a people before the creation of the world. The Son of God came down to earth as a sacrifice for those the Father has elected. And the Holy Spirit brings the elect to faith by creating a new heart, mind, and will in them.

Therefore, God accomplishes his purpose and plan all the way through. Jesus accomplished His mission—to die for the sins of all that his Father has chosen—for His Father, “I and my Father are one.” His mission is the result of the everlasting love of the Father, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1John 4:10). John was writing to Christians for whom Christ was sent by his Father to be the atonement for their sins, not the sins of everyone in the world.

Jesus explains what his mission was, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v 11). From eternity, Jesus was commanded by the Father to lay down His life for His sheep. Jesus came to fulfill the will of His father. “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again… This charge I have received from my Father” (vv 17-18). Jesus laid down his life“for the sheep,” God’s chosen people.

But Jesus is both the Good Shepherd and the “lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent.” And when he was despised and rejected, oppressed and afflicted, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief… the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (Isa 53:3, 7, 10). Jesus’ mission to be “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” for his people was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23; 4:28; 1 Pet 1:20).

Did Jesus accomplish this mission to lay down his life for all the sheep to save them? When he explained his mission, he said that his Father’s purpose in election is to save all that he has elected. And the Father will surely accomplish his purpose:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:37-39).

Jesus will lose none of those given to him by his Father, because his Father intended his sacrifice to be only for “all that the Father has given” him. And all of them will come to him.

Even in his high priestly prayer before he was crucified, Jesus prayed only for all those that the Father has chosen out of the whole world and given to him, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world… I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me… and not one of them has been lost” (John 17:1-2).

Think about this: The night before He died, Jesus prayed only for those whom the Father has chosen. He left out of his prayer all those whom the Father has not chosen to be saved. Would he then change His Father’s plan a few hours later by dying on the cross for everyone, even those whom His Father has not chosen?

The Bible says that Jesus accomplished the salvation of those whom the Father has chosen. He did not just make possible salvation to all—sheep and goats alike—but he actually saved all the sheep. His death is always spoken of as actually making full satisfaction of the justice of God on behalf of the elect. Thus, he could say as he was dying on the cross, “It is finished.”

If the Father intended that his Son would sacrifice his life for all people who would ever be born in this world, wouldn’t it follow that everyone would be saved? But most evangelicals believe that salvation is based on a person’s “freewill decision” to believe in Christ. But this is the dilemma: If no one is saved unless he makes a decision for Christ, then no one was actually saved by the death of Christ—His death only makes it possible for people to be saved. But the Bible clearly says that Christ really and completely saved God’s people (Matt 1:21; Gal 3:13). This is why on the cross, Christ proclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Combine this “freewill” view of salvation with man’s deadness in sin (Eph 2:1) and slavery to sin (Rom 6:16-17), and the result is unimaginable horror! Since fallen mankind is wholly unable and unwilling to come to God on his own understanding and will (1Cor 2:14), not a single person will be saved, because no one has the ability and the will to do so on his own (Rom 3:10-12). Everyone will be lost!

The Target of the Shepherd’s Sacrifice
The Father’s purpose in sending Jesus the Son of God from heaven down to earth is to save all those whom he has chosen before the creation of the world. So did the Son really accomplish his Father’s purpose?

The Good Shepherd by Henry Tanner, 1936 (click to enlarge)

The Good Shepherd by Henry Tanner, 1936 (click to enlarge)

In his Good Shepherd preaching, Jesus revealed to his disciples,“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (vv 14-15). The key word in these two verses is “know,” not merely a knowledge for information, just as everyone “knows” Presidents Aquino or Obama. The “knowing” between God the Father and the Son of God, and between the Good Shepherd and his own sheep, is one of deep intimacy, as a husband “knows” his wife sexually: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” (Gen 4:1); and “[Joseph] took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matt 1:24-25).

Jesus knew his sheep intimately, but only his own, not all the sheep in the world. It is such an intimate relationship that “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (v 3). Would the sheep outside of the flock know the shepherd’s voice? Would the shepherd know the names of the sheep in another flock? Certainly not! In Palestine, the shepherd actually calls each sheep by its own name. And all his sheep know the shepherd’s voice.

His knowledge of his sheep is so deeply intimate because he “poured out [his blood] for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28); and “he obtained [the flock… the church of God] with his own blood”(Acts 20:28). Christ loved the church so much that he “gave himself up for her,” “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:24, 2).

“Show yourself to the world”
But Jesus’ flock began with sheep from his own people, the Jews, who knew his voice. With his apostles and other undershepherds, many sheep from other sheepfolds will be gathered into his one flock, and he will be the one Shepherd (v 16; see also Eph 2:16-18). These sheep will be brought in from the uttermost parts of the earth, so Christ would truly be the “Savior of the World.” Does this mean that all people will be saved, or that his death was for all people, as John 3:16 seems to say, “For God so loved the world…”?[ref]For a more detailed treatment of John 3:16, see the author’s “Pop Evangelism’s Misuse of Scripture–Part 2 (God loves you…)”[/ref]

Because of John 3:16 and a few other well-known verses, a majority of evangelicals believe that Jesus died for every single person who ever lived in this world. But the Greek word for “world,” kosmos, is used in many different ways in the New Testament, and most of these uses preclude a universal context. In John 7:4, when Jesus’ brothers mocked him, “Show yourself to the world,” they were surely not saying he should make a personal appearance to the tens of millions of people in the whole earth. Similarly, this meaning of universality is untenable in just a few other examples:

“a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1); “He was in the world… yet the world did not know him” (John 1:10); “I declare to the world what I have heard from [the Father]” (John 8:26); “Behold, the world is gone after him” (John 12:19); “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom 1:8); “all the world wondered after the beast” (Rev 13:3).

One important rule of Biblical interpretation is that clearer texts must interpret unclear ones. A group of texts say clearly that Jesus died only for God’s people. Another group of texts say that Jesus is the “Savior of the world,” but it is easily shown from other texts that “world” cannot always mean every single person who ever lived. So it is obvious which texts are clear, and which ones are not.

Thus, if Bible texts say that Jesus died only for his own people, John 3:16 and 1John 2:2 would easily be explained to mean that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world without distinction (Acts 10:34), not without exception (Rev 5:9): “from every tribe and language and people and nation,” whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female (Gal 3:28).

“All Judea and all Jerusalem were being baptized by him”
Some texts also seem to say that God the Father and the Son of God intended an absolutely universal atonement with the use of “all” or “everyone.” For instance, “[God] desires all people to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). Hebrews 2:9 says that Jesus “taste[d] death for everyone.” And 2 Peter 3:9 says that the Lord is patient, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

First of all, in these passages, the context shows that “all” and “everyone” refer to believers only, and not to every person in the whole world. Second, the reference is to God’s love for all kinds of people, without distinction. Third, the Lord does not gloat in judging anyone; even when he punished Israel for their sins, God urged them to repent, saying, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone” (Ezek 18:32).

If we always read the meaning of these words “all” and “everyone” to be every human being or everything in this world, many of these verses would be nonsense. Two examples would illustrate this point: “Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him…” (Mark 1:5); “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching… and healing every disease and every affliction” (Mark 9:35; see also Matt 4:23-24). Is Mark telling us that every single person in Judea and Jerusalem was baptized by John, and not a single person in the country was sick after Jesus healed them all?

Two other verses demonstrate that the meaning of “all” depends on the context. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Clearly, the subject of the first instance is every single person who ever lived. But in the second instance, “all” obviously means only Christians!

In Titus 2:11, Paul says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” Obviously, Paul did not ever teach that every single person will be saved, so what does he mean? Part of the answer is in the next few words in verse 12, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.” The “all people” who are saved are the “us” —Paul and all other Christians—who are being trained for godliness.

All of us speak like the Bible (pun intended). When the boss says at a staff meeting, “Is everyone present?” he surely does not mean everyone in the whole world; he means everyone under his supervision. Children, if you missed a birthday party, then you will ask others, “Who were at the party?” And the usual answer is, “Everyone was there.” Everyone, meaning every single person in the world? A Biblical example of how such a reading would result in absurd silliness would be in Mark 1:32-33, when Jesus was healing in Galilee: “They brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door.”

Therefore, in many passages, “all” and “every” must be taken to mean all without distinction, not all without exception.

The Spirit Assures No Sheep will be Lost
Christ’s mission has been accomplished and still being accomplished. All believers in Biblical history were saved by the blood of the Lamb of God who is himself the Good Shepherd.

Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The church will never fail, even in persecution and hardship, because the foundation of the church is in His blood.

You may be thinking: Why preach the Gospel to all the world if Christ died only for the elect? What’s the use of calling sinners to faith in Christ if you cannot tell every one that He died for them? This is a common objection against this view of the atonement.

Many think that the only way to preach the Gospel is to tell sinners that Christ died for them and they must believe this. But careful study of the New Testament will show that both Christ and His apostles never made statements such as “Jesus died for you.” What we do find are exhortations to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and then the promise is that those who do “shall be saved.”

Do you ask yourself, Did Christ die for me? The popular answer most evangelicals would give you is, “Yes, he died for you.” But carefully consider these other questions: Do I want a Savior? Do I need a Savior? Do I admit I’m a sinner? Do I admit that I cannot do anything to satisfy God’s anger? And can you say with all your heart: Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner? If you can confidently answer “YES!” to all those questions, then you can definitely claim that Christ died for you. That your name is written in the book of life.

Therefore, friends, you are invited in the name of Christ to believe that He died for you on the cross. Yes, you are urged to cast yourself upon the Rock of ages, which was cleft also for you.

And if you believe in Christ as your only hope, have no fear. The work that he has begun in you shall be fully accomplished. Jesus the Good Shepherd tells you, “No one can snatch you out of my Father’s hand.” No one is more powerful than his Father that he can steal sheep out of his Father’s hand, because God the Father is “greater than all” (vv 28-29).

Your Good Shepherd’s promise is your assurance as believers: “My sheep hear my voice.” and “I will lose none of those whom the Father has given me.” What a blessed assurance! But Christ has also sent his Spirit to you to assure you that you are a sheep of Christ, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1John 4:13). He is your witness that you are his sheep, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God… heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:14-17).

Christ our Lord “is my shepherd… He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” It is precious for a believer to say: “Jesus the Good Shepherd laid down his life for me. He died for me.”

What is next for you for whom Christ died? Praise Him, who alone should be glorified. Serve Him, who alone is Lord of all. These are the results and the effect of the perfect work of Christ on the cross. “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1John 3:24).

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