“In Christ” – Union with Christ (part three)
In Christ – Union with Jesus
To say we are in union with Jesus is the same as saying we are in unity with Him. Everything we need to know about unity finds its foundation in our union with Jesus.
Our union with Jesus Christ occurs so frequently in the Bible that it ought to be in our daily conversation. It is remarkable to think that the Creator of the universe is in perfect unity with us. We are so much in unity, that He is in me, and I am in Him. Our unity with Jesus is as much a fact of life as our need for air to breathe.
The truth ought to wow us and cause us and others to stop and think.
Friend: “What does it mean to be a Christian?”
Us: “Perhaps you ought to sit down while I answer your question. I am going to share with you some remarkable truths. When a person becomes a Christian, what takes place in the spiritual realm is beyond our wildest dreams.”
Speaking about our union with Jesus ought to elicit a response that says, “that sounds too good to be true.”
Living in Unity “In Christ”
The Bible’s illustrations of our union with Christ help us understand what takes place in the spiritual realm. Our conversations about our union with Christ can use these illustrations to help others understand our union with Christ.
“How is it that Christ is in us and that we are in Him?” How do we describe this relationship in ways others may understand? To answer those questions we can talk about being a branch in the Vine, a sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd, or a stone that aligns with the Cornerstone.
We see three truths with each illustration.
The first truth is that our union with Christ does not make us equals. We are co-heirs with Jesus, but, that doesn’t mean that we share his authority. Each illustration shows the authority of Jesus. He is the Head of the body. He is the Vine, and we are the branches. Jesus is the Shepherd, and we are the sheep. He is the Cornerstone, and we are the stones that need to align with Him.
The second truth flows from the first. Our unity with Jesus requires that we are subject to His authority. To be in unity with Jesus is to respond to Him as Lord. Jesus is the authority who dictates the terms of our union. With every illustration, there are instructions on how to live under His authority.
The third truth is that the blessings of our union are nothing short of fantastic. Our union with Him results in many blessings, the chief of which is the fulness of joy.
We looked at what it means to be a branch in the Vine (sermon). All who are in Christ abide as a branch in the Vine. When we abide in Christ, God the Father prunes us, so we bear much fruit. Jesus is the source of our nourishment. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. Those who are not in Christ are like a branch on the ground that withers and dies.
As we abide in the Vine, we find our joy in obeying His commands. Our obedience shows our love for Jesus. We serve a loving Lord; we keep our eyes on the cross and find joy in serving our Savior.
This week, we look at another illustration, our living as sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd.
Living as a Sheep Belonging to the Good Shepherd
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep that belong to His fold.
We don’t live in an area known for sheep. But, in Jesus’ day, sheep were plentiful. When Jesus speaks about sheep and a shepherd, people easily understand the analogy.
Sheep have been an abundant livestock in Palestine since the days of Abraham up to modern times. Even today, many families depend on sheep to make a living.
Two Bible passages give us a glimpse into the large quantity of sheep in Palestine during Bible times. Job had a great abundance of sheep. When the Lord restores Job, the Bible tells us that he has 14,000 sheep in his possession (Job 42:12). He had more sheep than Claremont has people. When Solomon dedicates the house of the Lord, he offers up 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep (I Kings 8:63). End to end, single file, they would stretch out for 57 miles (from here to Concord, NH).
Being around sheep and shepherds is an everyday part of life in Israel.
Hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow (10:3-4)
Jesus tells us how we are to live as sheep that belong to Him. He says that the sheep that belong to Him hear His voice and follow.
If there are two herds of sheep combined in one pasture, the shepherds would not care if the sheep got all mixed up. One shepherd can stand to the east and the other in the west, and all they have to do is call their sheep, and the sheep will immediately go to their shepherd. Sheep have excellent hearing and can distinguish voices.
When we are in Christ, His Spirit is in us and speaks to our soul so we can hear the Good Shepherd. Jesus expects those who hear Him will follow. The Good Shepherd leads us to green pastures and still waters (Psalm 23). We follow because we know that our Shepherd is leading us to what is right and good. His rod and staff protect us. He will never lead us astray.
Jesus tells His followers that the reason He speaks in parables is that, although the people hear the sounds of His words, they do not truly hear because they did not understand (Matthew 13:13). Jesus speaks, and they do not hear the Good Shepherd; they do not recognize Him.
When God’s word is spoken, those in Christ hear His voice and recognize that He is the Good Shepherd. His sheep follow because they trust the Good Shepherd leads to good places.
Do not follow, but flee from a Stranger (10:5)
Sheep that listen to the Good Shepherd need to flee from the voices of strangers. In this world, we are bombarded by voices. Some voices attempt to imitate the Good Shepherd. We need to have discerning ears. Jesus told His disciples, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8).
The only way to know the voice of our Savior is to spend time in His word. His voice needs to be familiar. We need to recognize Him when He speaks.
The world is full of false teachers. The way we know they are wrong is from studying what Jesus says in His Word. We need to know the voice of truth.
Notice, Jesus doesn’t tell us to just not listen to strangers. It is much more than tuning them out. We are to do the opposite of following; we are to flee in the opposite direction. There is nothing more dangerous than for a sheep to follow a stranger who comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
Find His Pasture (10:9)
There is only one way to find the pasture of Jesus, which is to enter through Him. He is the door. There is no other door. Jesus is the only way to safety.
Tim Challies says this about sheep, “Left to themselves, sheep will not and cannot last very long. Just about any other domesticated animal can be returned to the wild and will stand a fighting chance of survival, but not sheep. Put a sheep in the wild, and you’ve just given nature a snack.”
When we hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, we will find safety. We will go in and out and travel freely. Jesus wants us to seek His pasture continually. He wants us to know where to find it.
All other doors lead to destruction. We can have confidence in knowing that Jesus says to knock on His door, and the door will be opened for us.
Know Him (10:14)
Jesus knows His sheep, and He wants us to know Him. The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that He is determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
We are to know Him in a way that goes beyond knowing the facts about His life or the number of miracles He performs. We are to know Him intimately. Our prayer is that we be able to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18). His love surpasses knowledge.
The way we get to know Him is to spend time with Him. We need to abide in His word. We need to be comfortable around Him. We need to understand what Jesus likes and doesn’t like. Ask others who know Him to tell you what they know. Learn from one another and teach one another.
Become One Flock (10:16)
Jesus tells His listeners that there are more sheep that belong to Him than those who are Jews. He told Nicodemus that God loves the world. Salvation is for the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).
Jesus has one flock. They all hear His voice. The voice of Jesus is a universal voice that speaks to the heart. We need to welcome other sheep as Jesus welcomes them. Jesus has sheep all over the world, of every tribe and tongue.
All of His sheep are putting on the new self who is being renewed to the image of Christ— a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:10-11). There is no biblical basis for racial discrimination for those who are in Christ.
As one flock, we are to endeavor to seek unity with all people. Heaven will be a beautiful place as people from all the nations and tongues gather before the throne of God.
Living as a sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd is very straight forward and simple. We are called to know our Shepherd intimately. As we get to know Him, we recognize His voice. We flee from the sounds of other voices. We welcome all sheep who belong to the Good Shepherd and we gather as one unified flock. Where our Shepherd leads, we follow. It is His pasture that we seek.
The Blessings of Being a Sheep of the Good Shepherd
Jesus knows sheep need to be led. He calls His sheep and leads them.
Sheep do not know where to go. BBC News gives us this story about sheep:
Turkish shepherds watched in horror as hundreds of their sheep followed each other over a cliff, say Turkish reports. First, one sheep went over the cliff edge, only to be followed by the whole flock, according to the reports. More than 400 sheep died in the 15-meter fall – their bodies cushioned the fall of the next 1,100 others who followed.
If it were not for our Good Shepherd, we would be sheep following one another off of a cliff.
We know from asking people, who do not know anything about the Bible, how to obtain eternal life. The answers range from interesting to outlandish. There is not a human on the earth who knows the way to eternal life. Jesus is the way, truth, and the life. All other ways lead to destruction.
The Good Shepherd makes sure we are familiar with His voice. The reason we know His voice is because His Spirit is in us. Jesus’ sheep are being led by the Spirit of God. It is God’s Spirit in us that has us cry out “Abba! Father!” and testifies with our spirit that we belong to the Good Shepherd (Romans 8:14-16). His voice is familiar.
Jesus is not a distant Shepherd. He is near and calls us by name. We are intimately familiar. People often think of God as being far removed from our reality. They think of God as existing in another dimension as if He is in another universe altogether. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes. (Isaiah 40:11)
Our union with Jesus is truly remarkable. We are on a first-name basis with the Creator of the universe. We know Him, but more importantly, He knows us.
Abundant life (10:7-10)
People believe that in having a relationship with Jesus, they will lose out on all that is good in life. People value the treasures of this world. Jesus leads us away from the treasures of this world to an abundant life. Our Good Shepherd knows what is best for us.
The god of this world is a thief. He comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus has our good in mind. As sheep in His fold, we trade the world’s barn full of wood, hay, and stubble for one full of silver, gold, and precious gems (1 Corinthians 2:12).
Jesus is the door leading to the good pasture of salvation
We receive the blessing of belonging to Jesus. We are not under the care of a hired hand who is just looking for a paycheck. A hired hand is not like the owner but will leave as soon as the danger of the wolf comes along.
We belong to Jesus. He didn’t buy us using gold or silver. He paid the ultimate price by purchasing us with His blood. The blood of Jesus is the most valuable of all resources.
When a great price is paid, the possession is shown to be very valuable. Because Jesus purchases us with His blood, He shows us how much He loves us.
We are loved by the Good Shepherd. He gathers all that belong to Him. If one is lost, He leaves the ninety-nine to find the one (Luke 15:4). How comforting to know that when we stray, He will find us and bring us home.
Jesus demonstrates His love because He lays down His life for us. Do we know a shepherd that will lay down his life for livestock? Yet, Jesus lays down His life for His sheep. He stands at the gate and meets the enemy head-on. In the battle, His blood is spilled, and we are saved from the enemy.
What would we see if we were to watch the crucifixion? We would see Jesus lovingly save us while succumbing to a bloody defeat as the enemy mercilessly whips Him, nails Him to a cross, and pierces His side with a sword just to make sure that He is dead. Imagine being a sheep helplessly watching a wolf devour the Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd loves us.
One of the biggest problems facing our country and this world is the inability of people of different cultures to get along. In America, racial unrest is at a high-point. The Chinese are fighting the Mongolians. Serbians fight with the Bosnians.
People of different colors, languages, and beliefs have fought since the beginning of time. Some people will even fight about sports teams.
Being in the flock of Jesus gives us the blessing of unity. Jesus gathers sheep from every nation and makes one flock. He gathers sheep from every tribe and tongue and brings them together in perfect unity and harmony. Swords are turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Only Jesus proves able to bring unity to this world.
We receive the blessing of being under the authority of Jesus. Jesus is in unity with the Father’s directive. There is no higher authority. Nobody can come to take us from the flock of Jesus. He is the greatest of all powers.
Everything that Jesus does, He does because He wants to do it. He willingly lays down His life. Nobody is forcing Jesus to do anything. Because Jesus has all authority, we can know with certainty that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
Guaranteed Eternal Life (10:27-29)
Our Good Shepherd guarantees eternal life. Look at John 10:27-28. These verses occur later when Jesus is in Jerusalem at the portico of Solomon. He tells those present:
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:27-28)
Martin Hägglund’s book, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, states eternal life would not be good, but terrible. He writes:
It would entail an ever-expanding vortex of emptiness. A gaping, bottomless pit of meaninglessness. It would spell the end of caring, the end of hoping, the end of appreciating, of celebrating, of exerting, of accomplishing, of committing, of loving. It would mean despair beyond despair. Indeed, a fate worse than death.
Martin Hägglund does not believe in eternal life. Either he is right, or Jesus is right. But, they both cannot be right.
There are numerous facts regarding the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. There are multiple eyewitnesses recorded in the Bible who claim to have seen the risen Jesus. There are also numerous non-biblical sources, even sources hostile to Christianity, supporting evidence for the resurrection.
Will we listen to Martin Hägglund, who says eternal life is impossible? Or, will we listen to the Good Shepherd?
We listen to the Good Shepherd. Jesus died on our behalf, and then He walked out of the grave to tell us, “Follow Me.” It is His voice we hear. He is familiar to us. He calls us by name and leads us to the green pastures and the still waters.
The Lord is our Shepherd.
Rejoice in belonging to the Good Shepherd, who leads us to life in abundance.