Feed My Sheep

“He said to him a third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; you know that I love You.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’”

John 21:17

Each time Peter affirmed that he loved Jesus he received a similar response; “Feed My lambs;” “Tend My sheep;” and “Feed My sheep.” One who has a genuine love for Jesus will have a genuine love for the objects of His special love – other believers.

Jesus commands Christians to love one another (John 13:34; 15:12, 17; 1 John 3:11) but we may lose sight of what that means. Jesus gave an illustration to His disciples recorded in John 13 when He washed the disciples’ feet. Peter got the point as we can read in Acts and Peter’s letters where he writes, “Above all things have fervent love for one another” (1 Peter 4:8) and then goes on to reveal that fervent love is expressed by exercising the spiritual gifts given to us (1 Peter 4:9-11). If we love Jesus we will love His people expressed by serving His people.

“Feed My lambs” means that we will have a special concern and care for those who cannot care for themselves, especially new believers. That means we will go out of our way to disciple and mentor them.

“Tend My sheep” means to shepherd His people. We can all be  shepherds who look to the needs of others (Philippians 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:2). This will include providing what they need, guarding them against the enemy, warning, encouragement and comfort (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

“Feed My sheep” means that we nourish other Christians with the Bread of Life – God’s word developed in a relationship with Jesus Christ. We will teach God’s word to others. In all of these we note that the lambs and sheep are His and we are under delegated authority to engage in activities that express His sacrificial love for His flock. We may differ in the expression of these depending on opportunity and gifting but we cannot affirm we love Jesus if we are not so engaged. Singing songs of love to Jesus is hypocritical if we are not serving His people out of genuine love (John 14:15, 21, 23; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6). To love other Christians with God’s kind of love (1 John 3:16) is to serve one another without condition or expectation of anything in return.

Testing Our Faith

“Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”

Matthew 8:26

Fear and anxiety are in direct opposition to faith in Jesus Christ. Oswald Chambers writes, “There are stages in life when there is no storm, no crisis, when we do our human best; it is when a crisis arises that we instantly reveal upon whom we rely.” When all is well we may think our faith is strong but then the Lord allows a test to come. Usually it will be unexpected and sudden. That is when we discover in what or whom we trust. Fear or anxiety may lead to panic and worry. Faith and trust in Jesus will keep us at peace through the test or trial even though it may mean a measure of suffering.

Jesus and His disciples had boarded a boat to travel across the sea. Having followed Jesus on to the boat the disciples would have felt safe and confident of reaching their destination. “And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves. But He was asleep” (v 24). The disciples had followed Jesus into the boat; He was with them in the boat but asleep and they panicked thinking they were going to die (v 25). This sudden and unexpected life-threatening experience tested their faith in Jesus and found it lacking. However, they still had a measure of faith on which they acted by going to Him.

When we are in a situation that has the potential to provoke panic through fear or anxiety we must immediately turn to Jesus. He is the only One who can truly deliver us. When He does, as He did the disciples, our faith will be rewarded by a stronger faith and peace in our heart. Notice that the whole experience caused the disciples to ponder more deeply who Jesus is. That is what such experiences are meant to do. It would be very sad if they turned us away from Jesus. During our lives there will frequently be times when our faith is tested. Sometimes it may seem that Jesus is asleep or not caring but nothing could be further from the truth. Had Jesus been awake the disciples may not have panicked but only been fearful. That Jesus may seem asleep or uncaring is itself a test of whether we believe what He has said. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 11:6). “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). When the test comes reach out to Jesus who alone can save and keep us. He rewards faith with more faith (Hebrews 11:6).

Strange Ways

“Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar”

Acts 21:31

Jerusalem was in an uproar because Paul had been falsely accused, and the rumour spread, that he had taken a Gentile into the temple (v 28). The reason Paul was in the temple was that he had also been falsely accused of forsaking the teaching that came from God through Moses (v 21). He had taken the advice of others to give a demonstration that he had not forsaken Moses (vv 23-24). In an attempt to appease his accusers Paul found himself on the brink of bodily death. We might view this as a tragedy and an anxious moment but as we read on we see it is God’s way of gathering the Jerusalem crowd to hear Paul’s testimony. It isn’t the way we would choose and it is doubtful that Paul would choose this way either but God’s ways are far better and more effective than ours.

If “all Jerusalem was in an uproar” then a good proportion of the population had gathered. Paul could not have obtained such a large audience by any other way. Under threat of being beaten by the Romans (v 32) before he could speak to the Jerusalem crowd, Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship so as to come under that protection. This protection led to him being able to share his testimony with the crowd of Jews and Roman soldiers and later to King Agrippa and his household (chapter 26). Later still, this Roman protection led to Paul writing the letters we now have in our New Testament.

Before going to Jerusalem Paul had been warned several times that he would end up in bonds (chapter 21) but he was determined to go even if it meant his death. What appeared to be foolish on Paul’s part (ignoring the warnings) and what was very alarming (lies and rumor) and the despair that may have arisen at Paul’s imminent death could easily cause the faith of many to shake. What we discover is that this was God’s way of bringing Jerusalem together again, possibly for the last time, to see how they would respond to the risen Christ. There will be times that the way God chooses for us seems threatening, dangerous or counterproductive but if we go on in faith He will achieve the outcome He desires. Paul understood, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).

Up to Jerusalem

“Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished”

Luke 18:31

Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem (vv 31-33) but the disciples didn’t. We are told that it was hidden from them (v 34). This reminds us that God can and does keep things hidden from us. Some things He grants only through careful and faithful study (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17). Like any good teacher He only teachers us that which we are ready to receive. The problem in our learning is never with the Teacher.

As with Jesus, the aim of the Christian is to do the will of God. We usually interpret that as serving where we think we are of most use to God but that may not be the case. Unless our service is in obedience to the will of God we may just be accumulating wood, hay, and straw (1 Corinthians 3:12). Our service must be in His will and that is where He judges us most useful. It is not for us to choose our place or role. The clay does not tell the potter what to make of it. Jesus always obeyed the Father (John 8:29). His aim, and ours, is to obey the Father and be led by the Holy Spirit.

There are many examples in the Bible and church history where God seems to us to have wasted His most gifted people. Stephen (Acts 7) and James (Acts 12:2)  are two of many examples. We cannot see what God is aiming at, so let us walk by faith and trust God to accomplish His plan and purpose in and through us.

Jesus went to Jerusalem and the cross to fulfill the will of God as prophesied in Scripture. Though they did not understand, the disciples went with Him anyway. Oswald Chambers writes, “In our Lord’s life Jerusalem was the place where He reached the climax of His Father’s will upon the cross, and unless we go with Jesus there, we shall have no companionship with Him. Nothing ever discouraged Our Lord on His way to Jerusalem. He never hurried through certain villages where He was persecuted, or lingered in others where He was blessed. Neither gratitude nor ingratitude turned Our Lord one hair’s breadth away from His purpose to go to Jerusalem.” We may not be able to see our “Jerusalem” but we will go toward it as Jesus did, in the will of God as a living sacrifice on the altar of His love (Luke 14:27; Romans 12:1-2).

Watch and Pray

 “Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them”

Mark 14:10

In this chapter we read that Jesus prayed, Judas betrayed and the disciples slept. Was that situation any different to that which often happens today?

We read in Romans 8:34, “Christ who died, and furthermore is risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” In Hebrews 7:25 we read, “Therefore He [Jesus] is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus intercedes on behalf of His people. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us as well.

Judas, one of the twelve, betrayed Jesus to those who wanted Him crucified. In the professing church there have always been wolves in sheep’s clothing teaching false doctrines. As such they betray Jesus. Just as Judas was never saved (Mark 14:21) neither are false teachers who deny Christ and would crucify Him again if they could. Since they cannot, they are trying to put to death faithful and true believers so they can continue in fleecing the flock, as Judas did (John 12:6).  Paul warns Timothy of such people: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). Jesus also warned of the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:6, 12). We see that there are the “Judas’” who are betraying Jesus today by denying His words for personal gain.

The disciples slept while Jesus prayed and while Judas was betraying Him. A large part of the reason that the betrayal of Jesus by the unbelieving professing church has been successful is because the true church of born again believers has largely been asleep. By God’s grace there remains a faithful remnant who cling to Him and His word and are not deceived.

False teachers abound as Jesus said they would. Speaking of the Tribulation time He says, “For false Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24; cf. vs. 5 & 11) Jesus prayed, Judas betrayed and the disciples slept. His words to His disciples were, “Watch and pray” (Mark 9:38).

Hear Him

“They did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him”

Mark 9:32

Peter, James and John had been on the mountain with Jesus when Elijah and Moses appeared to them but it seems they missed the most important aspect of that meeting. The conversation with Moses and Elijah concerned Jesus’ coming death and resurrection (Luke 9:31). As important a component as that was, it was not the most critical.

Not for the first or last time in the Gospels Jesus’ disciples are exhorted to “Hear Him.” Also, at the end of each letter to the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3 we read, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Good teachers are a blessing but Jesus is looking for, and the church needs, good hearers. This is the essence of being a disciple: one who is teachable and hears to the point of doing what Jesus says.

The reason the disciples were confused when Jesus spoke of His betrayal, death and resurrection (v 31) was that they did not take note of the Father when He said to them, “Hear Him.” That is, take on board the words of Jesus as factual and to be applied in the normal literal sense. Unfortunately they did what so many people do. Because the words of Jesus don’t fit our theology we either dismiss them as irrelevant or try to manipulate them to fit our own ideology. Jesus spoke plainly so they could understand what was to come.

When Jesus was betrayed, His disciples fled. Because he didn’t believe what Jesus had said, Peter, out of his confusion and ignorance, put on a brave front with a sword – but he was acting contrary to the will of God.

The Second Coming of Jesus is well documented in Jesus’ teaching, in the writings of the prophets, and in the New Testament. Although there is much recorded concerning His Second Coming, there is confusion among Christians. This confusion exists for the same reason it existed among the disciples when Jesus was betrayed and taken to be crucified. Many people will not take Jesus and other biblical writers at face value. If some part of the Bible doesn’t fit their theology they either dismiss that part, interpret it to fit their own ideology, or remain confused. One can only wonder how different the disciples’ actions might have been had they obeyed the Father’s command, “Hear Him.” How different our peace and joy would be if we took Jesus at His word.

Leaving All

“Peter began to say to Him, ‘See, we have left all and followed you’”

Mark 10:28

Abandonment of everything pertaining to our earthly lives is not something done lightly or easily. While Peter and the other disciples had left all they still had to come to the place of abandonment to Jesus Christ.

In Christian service there are several pitfalls into which we may be seduced or fall. In our enthusiasm we may start making our own plans based on what we reasonably believe is service to Christ. Yet in doing so we may set parameters of location, finance, housing, employment, culture, language or a host of other limitations. The development of the disciples reveals they did have some limitations which had to be given up.

Another pit into which we may fall is the desire to do something for the Lord. The hidden motive may be to receive praise or to feel good about ourselves. Jesus said we could do nothing apart from Him (John 15:5). Any attempt to do so is rebellious pride. One may leave all with the motive of being praised for it.

Like the disciples, the first thing we do is come to Jesus, then we leave all to follow Jesus and finally we abandon everything to jointly serve with Jesus. The way to serve Jesus is to serve His people. Jesus expressed this in Matthew 25:40 and in John 21:15-19 where we read of Peter’s restoration to fellowship with the Lord. Love for Jesus will always include love for other Christians expressed in service. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). He said this in light of His illustration of this principle of service to one another (v 14). To love with God’s kind of love is to serve one another without condition.

Another pitfall is to serve the Lord with an expectation of getting something in return in this life or that which is to come. Abandonment is not in order to receive anything but in order to give everything. Even asking “Where can I be of use?” has the element of pride and self worth in it. It is not about our evaluation of usefulness. Abandonment is to Christ, forsaking all else. Oswald Chambers writes, “If we only give up something to God because we want more back, there is nothing of the Holy Spirit in our abandonment; it is miserable commercial self-interest.”

Let us dethrone ourselves and put Christ on the throne by yielding to Him without condition.

Captive of Love

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as we are.”

John 17:11

We are very grateful that John has recorded the words of this prayer of Jesus. So much is packed into just one prayer such as the glory of God to be restored to Jesus and revealed in His disciples. The relationship between Father and Son is also revealed as is equality of person of the Father and Son with differing roles within that equality. Our focus for now is the keeping of Christ’s disciples.

Whenever we have a doubt about our possession of eternal life it is because we believe that our salvation and favour with God is in our hands. It is not! As Peter also wrote, we “are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

The words “keep” and “kept” in John 17:11-15 have the meaning of being protected from an outside force and of being held captive for one’s protection. On the one hand Jesus is praying that the Father will protect His disciples from Satan’s power and influence (v 15) and on the other hand Jesus is saying that He will keep His disciples as a captive of His love in Himself (v 12).

Both aspects of this reveal that we who have trusted in Jesus Christ are absolutely secure. Any thought that causes us to doubt that security comes when we start thinking that our salvation is obtained by our own effort or faithfulness and not as the free gift of God in Jesus Christ and His faithfulness.

As we read through the Gospel accounts we frequently note the disciples’ lack of belief and understanding and yet Jesus kept them all (v 12). We will have areas of doubt and unbelief from time to time – but Jesus affirms that He will lose none who are His. As Peter affirmed, we are kept by the power of God – and not by our own ability or strength of faith. If our salvation, and being kept saved, was by our own effort then there would be reason for grave concerns.

Jesus has prayed that the Father would set watch over His disciples and protect them from all enemies, including Satan (vv 11, 15). When we fear what Satan or people may do to us we are forgetting this prayer of Jesus. We are protected from all enemies and kept as captives of Christ’s love by Him.

Following Jesus

“Follow Me and I will make you become fishers of men”

Mark 1:17

The Gospels record Jesus calling men to follow Him several times. At times it was just one person being called at other times more than one.

The initial call to follow Jesus is that one may learn who He is and learn His ways but Jesus attached an outcome for those who genuinely followed Him – they would become fishers of men (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17). They would reproduce. In order for reproduction to occur several things need to be in the heart of the disciple.

Not everyone will accept Jesus’ terms. Some make excuses (Matthew 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62). Some weigh the cost and see it as too high, preferring the riches of this world rather than riches in Christ. The rich young ruler was this kind of man (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22).

The cost of self sacrifice, taking up one’s cross, is too much for many, even many who claim to be followers of Jesus. How can one be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ and not be willing to become a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1)? Jesus willingly went to the cross and died for our sin so how is it possible to refuse to follow His lead to be a living sacrifice and still call ourselves followers of Jesus?

The great commandment is that we love both God and our fellow man (Matthew 22:37-39). The kind of love that we will have when following Jesus is His kind of love described in 1 John 3:16“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” and John 3:16. To refuse to love in this way is a refusal to follow Jesus.

Recorded by all three synoptic Gospel writers are Jesus words, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). That they all recorded this surely means we must accept that this is a water-shed condition of any disciple of Jesus especially if we wish to work with Him in making more disciples (Matthew 28:19).

Many of us want to choose our own place of sacrifice and ask Jesus to come along and bless it but for us to be followers it means discerning the place of sacrifice that He has chosen for us and follow Him there. As Jesus said, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me, and where I am, there My servant will be also” (John 12:26).

Regular Tests

“Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them.” Judges 3:1

With each generation of Israel, the Lord sent a test to see “whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them …, or not” (Judges 2:22, cf. 3:4). Ever since God breathed life into Adam this has been the way of the Lord. No generation, Jew or Gentile, may live by the faith of their parents (although there are great advantages in having believing parents). Each person, each nation, each generation will be tested. The book of Judges records various groups in Israel being tested.

Chapter one of Judges reveals Israel’s failure to perform all that the Lord had commanded. It would appear that they failed because they lacked faith in the Lord and did not persevere in the task given. From God’s perspective we discover in Judges 2:20-3:4 that the Lord left the ungodly nations in order to test Israel.

The professing church is facing a similar test today. We are being tested by the ungodly to reveal whether we will hold fast to and obey the word of the Lord, or not (3:4). Testing is a good thing; without it many might go through life believing their eternal destiny was heaven when in fact it was not. I have heard many testimonies of people who had believed they were Christians but on hearing a faithful Gospel presentation discovered that they had been “Christian” in name only.

This current test is revealing a division among professing Christians; between those who believe God’s word and those who do not. The tares and the wheat are being exposed by their fruit in preparation for the harvest when a complete separation will be effected. Following that separation the Lord will remove His true Church from the earth in readiness for the outpouring of His wrath on the whole earth.

In His prayer the Lord prayed to the Father, “They were yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word,” “I have given them Your word” and “Sanctify them by Your Word” (John 17:6, 14, 17). That which separates true believers from merely professing believers is their faith in the words of Jesus expressed in their own words and actions. Those who deny the words of Jesus, and thereby call Him a liar, cannot possibly be His disciples.

Each generation must be tested to expose false profession and reveal the truly born of God. That is what we are observing today.