READ : John 10:27-30
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. 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. I and the Father are one.
John 10:27-30 rsv
Security. Being truly safe. All of us want that, don’t we? It’s an elemental human need. Someone’s coming to my house later this week to try to sell me what is called a “security system,” to make my home, it is said, “robbery proof.” People continually offer us investment advice, financial counsel to enable us to be “secure” in retirement years. We’re interested. We listen. Everyone longs to be secure.
Maybe that explains in part the preoccupation with wealth in our culture. Surveys testify that college age young people are considerably less idealistic than they were in the sixties. They’re concerned now about getting and holding jobs, especially about making a lot of money. They often inquire when they begin their career in the work world about what the retirement provisions will be. They’re infected by something that pervades our society – the myth about money.
Part of this delusion is that wealth will bring us happiness. The average person in the U.S.A. feels that he or she would be considerably happier if personal income were increased by, say, 20 percent. That would take the strain off, they say. They’d be able to take care of the things that are troublesome now. Life would be then just about right. But when that happens, as it did happen for a great many people in the U.S., where buying power has increased dramatically over the last thirty years, the expected happiness, the increase of it, does not appear. We simply recalibrate, as it were. We begin to think that about 20 percent more would bring contentment. But we never quite reach it.
That’s the tragedy of the lottery’s big lie. If you strike it rich, you’re told, if you’re the lucky winner in the multi-million dollar drawing, you’ll have it made. A vista of unending joy will open up before you. Would you believe, friends, that almost none of those who win lotteries testify years later that winning has added to their happiness? According to some recent studies, almost 95 percent of such winners report that they are less happy than they were before they won.
So for this, people venture their life savings. For this the poor buy tickets with money their children need, to pursue this will-of-the-wisp, to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And when they’ve found it, they learn after a while that it’s not what they dreamed it would be.
I’m frank to tell you, friends – I hate that lie. I hate the pretense that more money will be given to education and to other good causes because we have a lottery. It simply isn’t true. Whatever gambling money gets into the coffers of good causes like that assures that government funds that would go to those things can now be diverted elsewhere. It’s not just the fact that the lottery is a regressive tax on the poor, and a way in which government preys upon the weakness and gullibility of people. It’s most of all the tragic falsehood that this is the way to happiness. I hate that. To me the rapid rise of a gambling mania in our society is sickeningly sad. So much money wasted! So many hopes disappointed in pursuing a delusive dream!
But the lie is not only about happiness. It’s about security. That’s the fundamental appeal for many who aspire to great riches. They’re going to make us safe, they think. Why, then, we can buy a home in a safe neighborhood. We’ll make it secure with deadbolt locks, electronic alarms and a host of security devices. We’ll be safe from the ups and downs of the economy, safe from poverty, safe from fear, safe from ever having to do without.
Does that delusion have its appeal for you? Do you really think that money will make you safe? Ask the people who have a lot of it. Let them tell you their story. Did it save their marriages from discord and divorce? Did it save their children from being weakened and wasted by affluence? Ask the man whose relatives plotted to kill him after he won the lottery. Ask those pursued by con artists who want to get their hands on some of the newfound wealth. Did being rich ever save friendships? Or does it tend to distance us from close relationships? Will it save what little compassion and concern for others we may have, or will we gradually lose all that as anxiety mounts about holding onto what we have?
Don’t misunderstand me, friends. This is not an antiwealth diatribe. Nowhere in the Bible are people condemned because of what they possess. Godly Abraham was a man of means and so were many of his most faithful descendants. Women of wealth supported the apostolic band, remember, and Jesus was buried in the tomb of a fairly rich man. It’s not money itself. It’s what it does to people, the power it gets over us, and especially the abominable falsehood that it will make us: (A) happy, and (B) secure. Write it down. Settle it in your spirit. On those two scores, Mammon cannot deliver. It’s a siren goddess that leads us on only to let us down.
THE REAL THING
Do you want to be really secure in a crazy, mixed-up world like this? Here’s a word for you. Listen. It’s from the Gospel according to John, chapter 10, verse 27. Jesus is speaking. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” Do you know what security is? It’s to be known by the Good Shepherd, to be given by Him eternal life and to be held forever in His hand.
Think about being known by the Lord. All of us like to be known. When you walk into a large group of people, most of whom are strange to you, who don’t know you or anything about you, isn’t it a great thing to spy the face of one person in the group who knows you? One who knows you well, who will recognize you and welcome you and make you feel at home in those unfamiliar surroundings? That can change an uneasy feeling into an experience of real enjoyment.
At deeper levels we all crave to be known. Oh, for someone who really understands us, who can tune in to what we’re feeling! Yes, one who knowing us and the kind of persons we are, accepts us anyway, cares about us, calls us “friend.” Life can move from shadow and sadness to light and joy in the presence of someone who knows us like that.
In the Bible, the word know is sometimes used for the sexual union between a husband and wife. It’s a knowledge that’s deep, personal and mutual. When the scriptures speak of God knowing His people, that knowledge is always accompanied by love. To be known by God is the most wonderful security-producing thing in the world because it means that He accepts us, He cares about us. We are His beloved children.
I hear all of that in Jesus’ words, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
There will come a time, the New Testament teaches, that Jesus will say to some on the last day, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” These will be people who called Him, “Lord, Lord,” but did not do the things He said. Theirs was a religion of hollow pretense. They were never numbered among His sheep. But those who hear His voice, those who follow Him, those who respond to His word with the commitment and trust of their lives, they are forever safe.
More, He gives them eternal life. It’s often pointed out that this eternal life is a new kind of life. It’s the life abundant, the life eternal, not the physical, natural life with which we were born, but a life from God that makes all things new, that is experienced in fellowship with Him. It’s a life that people begin to taste here and now when they put their faith in Jesus Christ. They have, right now, eternal life.
But we shouldn’t forget that the term eternal or everlasting also has a sense of duration. The natural life we know in this world is fragile and brief. I was reading a Psalm the other day that muses on that, “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; Let me know how fleeting my life is! Behold, thou hast made my days a few handbreadths and my lifetime is as nothing in thy sight” (Ps. 39:4-5). But the life that begins when we know Jesus Christ is a life with no ending. Not even death can affect it or destroy it. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). The gospel tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son Jesus Christ to die for us, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. To be secure, to be forever safe, is to receive that unspeakable gift.
One last thought about being truly secure. “I give them eternal life,” says Jesus, “and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” In this world, sheep are quite vulnerable creatures, especially to thieves and predators. They have no means of self-defense. They depend for their safety on the watchful care and courageous action of a shepherd. In that way, they picture for us our lot in this world. We’re vulnerable to temptation. The pressures of this world to conform us to its spirit are ever upon us. The Evil One, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour. All kinds of evils threaten to steal away our happiness and destroy our lives. Security means to be held in the grasp of the Lord.
There are some views of the Christian faith that emphasize strongly our need to persevere. They lay upon us an obligation to keep on believing, keep on seeking, keep on striving. And they sometimes inculcate along with that the fear that if we don’t keep going full speed ahead, if we don’t hold onto God with a firm grasp, we may at last be lost.
I resonate with the call to persevere, as strongly as anyone does. No one drifts into the kingdom. It’s the one who endures to the end who will be saved. But my confidence in so enduring is not in the strength of my grip. I know enough about my weakness to realize that if everything depends on my being able to hold onto God through everything that comes along, all the temptations, all the sorrows, all the troubles, why then, my hopes for final salvation are pretty slim and uncertain. But there’s another emphasis in the Bible, even more pervasive and profound than the one of enduring. It’s this: In Jesus Christ we are greatly loved by God; in Christ He has reached down to us and acted on our behalf. Before we came to know Him, utterly apart from any deserving of ours, we were already in the grasp of His eternal love. Nothing can ever wrench us away. We sing, “O love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee.”
I celebrate that sense of real security today: being sure that I’m known by Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, that He has given to me as the fruit of His sufferings eternal life and that He holds onto me with a grasp that will never fail. He won’t let me go. He won’t let me down. And I covet that confidence for you. Remember Jesus’ words, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” You’re hearing His voice today in the preaching of the gospel. If you will listen to Him and believe that His words are for you and commit yourself to be His and to follow Him, this marvelous security will be yours. You can live all your days with the assurance that in Jesus Christ you are forever safe.
Prayer: Lord, give to every person sharing this broadcast that wonderful confidence. Help us all to sing, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!”