Jesus must call his sheep (Redefining missions)

A well known secret at our church is that I am terrible at DIY. I can’t understand why though? I rate myself as very logical, analytical and somewhat handy; yet DIY escapes me. When I hang mirrors I drill into water pipes. I wrongly measured and cut the geyser-blanket three times in a row.  I break things that weren’t broken. In fact, my wife pays me not to do DIY. Yet I love painting because there is a sense of achievement when you’ve finished.   I painted a room this week and looked at the job-well-done with pride. In Christian ministry we seldom have the same sense off achievement.  There is always the sense that there is more one could do: more people to visit, more work on your sermon, more ministries to be involved in etc. However, being a Christian should give us a massive sense of achievement when we think about the cross of Christ and world missions because, contrary to what we might think, God always achieves his purposes – in Christ and in world missions.

There are two opposite errors when we think of Missions:

1. Jesus has achieved his bit, now it’s all up to us and we need to do everything.

According to this view, the eternal destinies of millions of people are hanging in the balance, and it is all up to us and our obedience to the Great Commission to save them.

2. Jesus has achieved his bit and therefore we have to do nothing.

William Carey, who became a pioneer missionary to China, provides a good example of this error.  When he wanted to discuss the Great Commission at a minister’s meeting in England an older minister rebuked him, “The Almighty does not need a man to speak for Him. He will enlighten the heathen in His own way, when He sees fit.” How are we to think about the cross of Christ and world missions?  Is everything – the souls of the perishing millions – entirely up to us and our obedience to the Great Commission? Or has God done everything and we therefore do nothing as the lost will be saved one way or another? John chapter 10 helps us.

Obedient sheep

v2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (John 10:2-4)

Jesus, astoundingly, says that he calls his sheep (v3), his sheep hear his voice (v3) and his sheep know his voice (v4). This is a common theme in John’s Gospel: God’s people listen to and believe the words of Jesus.  Jesus was saying these things against the Pharisees who claimed to know God, but refused to listen to his words.  Similarly, today people may claim to be spiritual, but if they do not listen to Jesus’ words in the Bible they are not.

One Church, One Shepherd

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

When Jesus said that the “good shepherd” lays down his life for the sheep calls to mind young King David in the Old Testament who literally risked his life for his sheep. But Jesus surpasses David in that he gives his life and dies for his sheep.   Notice Jesus dies for his sheep, not for the goats.  The sheep represent all God’s people in all the nations through all the ages. Jesus dies to bear their guilt and to redeem them.

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:16)

The phrase one flock, one shepherd means that Jews and Gentiles will be united in one community, one church; not two.  There can never be a Jewish Church and Gentile Church or a white church and black church. There must be only “one flock”.

Properly defining Missions

Notice, very importantly, that Jesus does not say: “There are goats that need to become sheep”, but says “I have other sheep, but not yet in the sheepfold.” Jesus meant that there are other sheep that he laid down his life for and they are not yet in the fold.  What must be done about those lost sheep?  In v16 Jesus says, “I must bring them also” – this is what we know as “Missions”. The Church is committed to “Missions” because Jesus is committed to bringing in his sheep for whom he died that are not yet in his sheepfold.

Must

The word “must” (I must bring them also) is a very important word.  The word is used in John 3:14 where Jesus says, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up”.   The Apostle John also wrote in John 20:9, “they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” In other words, all Jesus’ sheep must and will be bought into the fold just as sure as Jesus had to die and rise again.  How will they be brought in?

“and they WILL listen to my voice (not might listen, not may listen, not could listen). So there WILL be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

Jesus said that they (the sheep not yet in the fold) MUST (not may or could or might) be brought in and WILL listen to his voice.  Jesus’ death secured the full salvation for all his sheep – all God’s people.  Just as it was a divine necessity that Jesus would die for his sheep, so it is a divine necessity that his sheep must be saved.

Definite Atonement

For the theologians, this is what we call “definite atonement”: there is a subset of humanity that God has given to Jesus, out of God’s pure love and unmerited kindness, for whom Jesus died for and who will be saved and kept for God.  Jesus, the good shepherd, lays down his life to save them and they will hear and listen and be saved: it’s an unbreakable chain of events.

Unbreakable

The Apostle Paul put it like this,

those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)

Jesus repeats this radical truth of God’s unfailing purposes in Missions in v25-29:

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

Jesus said that God has given him a certain number of individuals. Jesus knows who they are. Jesus dies for them in order that the way to heaven might be provided for them and that they may be safe: no one will snatch them out of Jesus’ hand.  Jesus is referring to what we know as election. The sheep are first the Father’s; then they are given to the Son; the Son lays down his life for his own sheep; they are kept in the hands of the Son and the Father; no sheep for whom Christ lays down his life ever perishes.  All for whom Christ died will be saved.

The logic of Jesus

Did you notice Jesus’ words in v26, “but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” Those who do not come to faith were never Jesus’ sheep in the first place. Jesus’ logic is not, “You do not believe and therefore you are not part of my flock.”  Rather it is, “You do not believe because you are not part of the flock for which I lay down my life.” Jesus speaks of a divine discrimination between the sheep (those given to Jesus, died for, called and kept) and those who are not part of his flock.  This is the unfailing purpose of God in Missions: the sheep Jesus died for in all the world will hear and obey his voice.

Supreme confidence

Here too we have grounds for confidence in missions.  This doctrine of definite atonement spurred on missionary pioneers like William Carey.   This doctrine fuelled his passion as he knew that Christ was committed to saving his sheep from all the nations of the world when they heard his voice.

DIY disaster

I may and probably will fail at DIY projects at home, but God’s purpose to call and save and keep his sheep will not and cannot ever fail. If only one sheep was lost, Christ would have failed in his redemptive purposes.  Missions and ministry cannot fail – in our suburbs and in all the nations of the world.

Article 17 of the 39 Articles agrees:

Therefore, those on whom such an excellent blessing of God is bestowed are called according to God’s purpose by the Holy Spirit working in them in God’s good time; through grace they obey this calling and are freely justified by God; they become the sons of God by adoption (Rom 3.24; 8.15f); they are conformed to the image of his only Son Jesus Christ; they lead holy lives that are given to good works to the glory of God; and at last, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting bliss (Rom 8.29f; Eph 2.8-10).

 

In my next post I will look at how Christ’s sheep hear his voice.

I recommend this excellent book on Definite Atonement.