Four Steps to Inductive Bible StudyRelated Media
Setting the context: “ABCs”
- Author — Who wrote the passage?
- Background — When did the author live? In what culture?
- Context — How does the passage fit in with what comes before and after it?
What does the passage say? (Observation)
- Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Read and reread the passage. Read it in another version of the Bible if available.
- Gather all sorts of facts like an investigative reporter. Ask questions to help you observe the facts: Who? What happened? What was taught? When? Where? How? Why? This is where you see and discover what the author is saying.
- Locate and mark any key words, repeated words or phrases, and commands.
What does it mean? (Interpretation)
- What is the author’s intent in this passage? What is one principle or lesson the writer/God was trying to communicate? What was he saying to the people of his day? What would they have understood?
- Look at other scriptures that relate to the passage. These are usually found in the margins of Bibles or in footnotes. What do other verses say about this thought or idea?
- Use Bible study helps to get a clearer meaning of the passage as needed: commentaries, Bible dictionaries, concordances, Vine’s Expository Dictionary or a Bible study guide for the text, subject, or person your studying. Use a dictionary to define any unfamiliar terms or ideas.
- Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Why do you think God put this in the Bible?
How does the principle apply to one specific area of my life? (Application)
- What is the Holy Spirit saying to me in this passage? Ask Him.
- What is one way I can apply the heart of this passage to my life?
- What will I do differently because of what I’ve learned?
This information is taken from:
1. What Is Inductive Bible Study? by Bill Cook, http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Valley/6135/inductive2.htm
2. Walk This Way? The Book of Mark, Irving Bible Church, pages 73-75, 207.
3. Effective Personal Bible Study by Mike Messerli, Crossroads Bible Church.
God, Evolution, and Morality, Part IRelated Media
Part I (Click Here for Part II)
The billboards read: “No God? No Problem. Be Good for Goodness’ Sake,” and “Are You Good without God? Millions Are.” The point was clear: Morality in no way depends on belief in God. And why should it?
Atheists can be good, too. New atheist Christopher Hitchens regularly challenged his religious opponents to suggest a single act of goodness they could perform that he, the atheist, could not accomplish with equal success.
The campaign is intended as a broadside against a central evidence for God, the moral argument, classically one of four cornerstones for the case for God’s existence.1 Put most simply, if there is no God, there is no morality. However, morality exists. Therefore, God exists.2
Note, by the way, that objective morality is the issue here. Clearly, no God is necessary for the make-me-up morality of relativism. Universal moral obligations, however, require transcendent grounding. That’s the argument.
An About Face
Atheists, at least until recently, have characteristically agreed with the first premise: No God, no morality. Fine. They understood the calculus and were willing to live with the consequences. Indeed, Jeremy Rifkin sees the silver lining of atheism’s moral nihilism and rejoices:
We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else’s home….No set of pre-existing cosmic rules.…It is our creation now. We make the rules. We are responsible for nothing outside ourselves. We are the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.3
Times have changed.
While 20th century British atheist, A. J. Ayer, dismissed moral judgments as meaningless grunts of emotion (“emotivism,” 4 he called it), the new atheists want to occupy the high moral ground.
In my 2010 national radio debate with American atheist Michael Shermer, the Skeptic magazine editor repeatedly denied he was a relativist and insisted that evolution was adequate to explain morality. New atheist Christopher Hitchens’s position was the same. Natural selection and social contract were sufficient to make sense of his objective ethics.
Oddly, while much of the culture shifts increasingly towards relativism (“It’s wrong to push your morality on others,” “Who are you to judge?”), there’s a trend in atheism moving in the opposite direction.
And for good reason. Support for subjective morality means surrendering the most rhetorically appealing argument against God: evil. Indeed, in a relativistic realm, Richard Dawkins would be denied his famous flourish against the Bible’s God in The God Delusion:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.5
Clearly, to Dawkins, God is not just “unpleasant,” but wicked. The professor is not simply emoting, but judging. That requires a real morality, not merely a morality-according-to-me.
Can’t a materialistic scheme do this, though? Can’t natural selection acting on genetic mutation produce substantive ethics? Surely, right and wrong are obvious to most people, even “godless” ones. Mere belief in the Divine doesn’t seem to add anything. Morality helps us, as a species, get our genes into the next generation. Nature selects the survivors. Moral genes win. Simple.
Two thoughts, quickly.
First, it’s tempting for evolutionists to think that any trait conferring reproductive advantage must have evolved. They tell a natural selection story, wave their Darwinian wand, and the conversation is over. This is dangerously close to being circular. Simply telling a tale about, say, the survival benefits of altruism is not enough. Exactly how does this work? How does a mechanistic process produce a moral obligation? In what sense is goodness or badness a physical quality? Genes might determine behavior, but how do they determine beliefs about behavior when it comes to right and wrong?
Second, the materialist account of morality starts with the assumption that the truth of evolution—in the technical, neo-Darwinian-synthesis sense—is unassailable.6 However, in the last decade even nonreligious thinkers have raised serious doubts about the program’s actual capabilities.
A host of secularists are having significant misgivings, and for good reason. In 2008, a group of evolutionary biologists, now known as the “Altenberg 16,” met in Austria “united in their conviction that the neo-Darwinian synthesis had run its course and that new evolutionary mechanisms were needed to explain the origin of biological form.”7 Noted philosopher Thomas Nagel, himself a committed atheist, stunned the academic world with his recent book, Mind and Cosmos—Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.8
Let’s set those issues aside for now, though. I want to look at a different problem: Even if Darwinism were true—even if “good” and “bad” somehow identified genetically transferable, physical traits—evolution still could not account for objective morality (“Good for goodness’ sake”), not even in principle.
To defend this claim, however, I must be clear on terms. It makes no sense to try to explain morality unless we’re clear on what kind of morality we have in mind. In common parlance, there are two varieties: subjective and objective. When it comes to the question of God, evolution, and morality, the difference is critical. But what, exactly is that difference?
In the Mind or in the Matter?
When I tutor students on objective truth, I start with a statement, then ask two questions. I make a dramatic display of placing a pen on the podium, then say, “The pen is on the podium.” Next, I ask if the assertion is true. When the students nod, I ask the critical question: “What makes the statement true?”
Hands shoot up. “Because I see it there,” one student says. But if you didn’t see it, I ask, wouldn’t it still be true that the pen is on the podium? Seeing might help you know the statement is true, but it isn’t what makes it true.
“Because I believe it,” offers another. If you stopped believing, I challenge, would the pen disappear? No. And would believing really hard make a pen materialize atop an empty podium? Probably not.
“The thing that makes the statement ‘The pen is on the podium’ a true statement,” I tell them, “is a pen, and a podium, and the former resting on the latter. It doesn’t matter if anyone sees it. It doesn’t matter if anyone believes it. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks at all. It is completely independent of any subject’s thoughts—a ‘subject’ here being any person or any group of people. It is, in other words, completely mind independent.”
This is an object lesson on the meaning of objective truth. If the “truth maker”—the condition that makes the statement true—is something about the object itself, then the truth is an objective truth, that is, the statement accurately fits some feature of the world “out there,”9 regardless of anyone’s opinion about it.
By contrast, think of my daughter, Eva, at five years old, amusing herself with a book beyond her reading ability. As she tells the tale, out tumbles the dramatic details. She turns each page at proper intervals, yet her yarn bears no resemblance to anything on the page. It’s purely a product of her own imagination. The story is in her head, not in the book.
Put another way, the “truth” spoken is in the subject (Eva), not in the object (Fancy Nancy). It is mind dependent (a five-year-old mind, in this case). Therefore, it is a subjective, or relative, truth.
Real Bad or Feel Bad?
These same distinctions apply in exactly the same way to morality. It’s the difference between real bad and merely feel bad.
Moral objectivism is the view that moral claims are like the statement, “The pen is on the podium.” Philosophers call this “moral realism” because moral qualities are as real as the pen, though not physical. The “truth maker” is an objective fact, not a subjective feeling.
So, for example, when an objectivist says, “Rape is wrong,” he means to be describing rape itself, not merely his own belief, feeling, opinion, point of view, or preference about rape.10 In objectivism, something about the object (an action, in this case) makes the moral statement true. If rape actually is wrong, it’s because of something about rape, not something about a person, his culture, or his genetic conditioning. Objective moral truth is mind independent.
By contrast, moral relativism is like little Eva’s story. The “facts” are only in her head, not in the world. No act is bad in itself. The words “evil,” “wicked,” or “wrong” (or “good,” “virtuous,” or “noble,” for that matter), never actually describe behavior or circumstances. Rather, they describe a judgment in the mind of a subject—an individual or a group—who has either expressed a preference or felt an emotion.
In relativism, the subject—her beliefs, tastes, or preferences—is the “truth maker.”11 In a relativistic world, then, no belief can actually be false. Instead, it is true for the person who holds it. It is true for her, even though it might not be true for others who have different beliefs. That’s because in relativism moral truth is mind dependent.
Moral relativism is also called “moral non-realism” because moral statements do not describe real properties of actions. Transcendent, objective, moral obligations are fictions. Behaviors can be distasteful (individuals dislike them), or taboo (cultures forbid them), but they cannot be wrong in any ultimate sense. Rape is only wrong if someone believes it so, not because anything is questionable about the act itself.
Put most precisely, objective morality is when the words “moral” or “immoral” describe an act, not someone’s opinion about the act. It is mind independent, matching some feature of the external world. Nothing inside a subject’s mind makes moral claims true.
Subjective, relativistic morality does not describe acts, but beliefs. It is mind dependent, tied to the opinion or belief of an individual or group. Nothing outside a subject’s mind makes moral claims true.
In an objective statement, moral facts make a claim true. In a subjective claim, a subject’s moral feelings make the claim true. In moral realism, morality is a property of behaviors. In moral non-realism, morality is a property of subjects. They are beliefs subjects hold, not properties objects have.
Objectivism is the view that morality is like gravity. Relativism is the view that morality is like golf. The facts of physics are features of the world, not a matter of personal whim, individual taste, or cultural convention. Golf, on the other hand, is man-made. The rules are up to us.
Notice, I am not here saying objectivists are correct and relativists are incorrect. I am simply clarifying the differences between the two. I am defining terms, not defending a view.
But why all this tedium about definitions?
Explaining the Explanation
It is axiomatic that for an explanation to be a good one, it must explain what needs explaining. If evolution is capable of explaining one kind of thing, and morality turns out to be something else, then the evolutionary explanation fails. The critical question is this: Does the kind of morality evolution is capable of accounting for fit the morality that actually needs to be explained?
Atheists say that purely natural processes are adequate to produce the kind of morality central to the moral argument for God—objective morality, goodness for its own sake, in their words.
Relativistic morality is utterly useless to this task. Only a successful Darwinian account of moral realism will succeed. Nothing else will do. That’s the crux. Can evolution rise to this task? Let’s see.
The Blind Moral Maker
Most of us know the basic Darwinian story. Simply put, natural selection chooses among genetic variations (mutations), selecting those traits best suited for survival and reproduction. This process mimics design so well, Richard Dawkins famously dubbed it “the blind watchmaker.”
In Descent of Man, Darwin argued that every human faculty—including the moral one—is the result of the same mindless process that governs all the rest—the blind moral maker, if you will. Note atheistic philosopher and committed Darwinist, Michael Ruse: “We are genetically determined to believe that we ought to help each other.”12 My radio debate opponent, Michael Shermer, explains:
Evolution generated the moral sentiments out of a need for a system to maximize the benefits of living in small bands and tribes. Evolution created and culture honed moral principles out of an additional need to curb the passions of the body and mind. And culture, primarily through organized religion, codified those principles into moral rules and precepts.13
By a moral sense, I mean a moral feeling or emotion generated by actions….These moral emotions probably evolved out of behaviors that were reinforced as being bad either for the individual or for the group.14
The codification of moral principles out of the psychology of moral traits evolved as a form of social control to ensure the survival of individuals within groups and the survival of human groups themselves.15
Moral sentiments…evolved primarily through the force of natural selection operating on individuals and secondarily through the force of group selection operating on populations.16
Shermer identifies two factors he thinks form “moral sentiments,” or “moral feelings,” in humans: moral traits determined genetically by evolution, and codes enforced culturally for the good of the group—a combination of nature and nurture.17 This is a standard evolutionary characterization of the naturalistic origins of morality.18
I want you to think very carefully about the implications this Darwinian explanation of morality has for our question about goodness and God. Atheists want to undermine the force of the moral argument for theism by accounting for morality in purely naturalistic terms. No God needed. The morality evolutionists must explain to successfully parry the moral argument, though, is objective morality since it’s the only kind of morality relevant to the argument. As I said earlier, relativism won’t do.
Recall that objective morality (moral realism) is mind independent, based on facts outside the subject, the object being the truth-maker, while relativistic subjective morality (moral non-realism) is mind dependent, based on feelings or beliefs inside a subject (an individual or cultural group), the subject being the truth-maker.
So here’s my question: What kind of morality did Shermer describe in his Darwinian account above, objective or subjective? Note the phrases “moral sentiments,” “moral feeling or emotion,” “the psychology of moral traits,” and ethics that “culture…honed…and codified.” In each case Shermer describes a morality that is mind dependent, grounded on feelings in the subject, with the subject being the truth-maker. Relativism, in other words.19
Atheists like Shermer and Hitchens claim to be objectivists (and seem convinced they are), yet consistently ground their “morality” in entirely subjectivist ways. Michael Ruse, however, is not so confused: “Ultimately, morality is an illusion put in place by our genes to make us social facilitators.” 20 He explains:
Substantive ethics, claims like “Love your neighbor as yourself,” are simply psychological beliefs put in place by natural selection in order to maintain and improve our reproductive fitness. There is nothing more in them than that…. We could easily have evolved a completely different moral system from that which we have .21 [emphasis added].
As a Darwinist, Ruse explicitly rejects objectivism, labeling his view, appropriately, “moral nihilism” and “moral non-realism.” 22 In this, he is being doggedly (and refreshingly) consistent. Indeed, he adds, even one’s conviction that morality is objective is part of evolution’s clever deceit.23
Consider, in support, Robert Wright’s characterization of evolutionary morality in The Moral Animal:
The conscience doesn't make us feel bad the way hunger feels bad, or good the way sex feels good. It makes us feel as if we have done something that's wrong or something that's right. Guilty or not guilty. It is amazing that a process as amoral and crassly pragmatic as natural selection could design a mental organ that makes us feel as if we're in touch with higher truth. Truly a shameless ploy.24 [emphasis mine]
I’m not denying here that evolution can account for the “shameless ploy” of our sense of morality (though I am deeply skeptical). That’s a different issue. I’m arguing that if it does, it can only give subjective morality, not objective.
Matter in Motion
But there’s a second problem.
Darwinism is a strictly material process by definition—as one put it, “clumps of matter following the laws of physics.”25 How can a completely materialistic process (natural selection acting on genetic variations)—even if true—produce genuine, objective moral obligations? How can a mere reshuffling of molecules cause an immaterial moral principle to spontaneously spring into existence and somehow attach itself to behaviors? It can’t.
Behaviors are physical, but whether any behavior is morally good or bad is not in its chemistry or physics. Right and wrong, virtue and vice, values and obligations, are not material things.
No Darwinian process can make rape wrong. It can only—even in principle—make people think rape is wrong. Indeed, no biological process can tell us anything about the morality of rape at all.
Darwin, No Exit
These are intractable problems for evolutionists. The difficulties are so deep, it’s impossible for them to rescue their moral project.
No, Darwin will not help the atheist here. Since evolution is a materialistic process, it can only produce physical merchandise. No stirring and recombining of molecules over time will ever cause a moral fact to pop into existence in the immaterial realm.
At best, Darwinism might account for behaviors or beliefs human beings falsely label objectively “moral” because nature’s deception accomplishes some evolutionary purpose. But it is deception, nonetheless. Evolution might be able to explain subjective moral feelings. It can never explain objective moral obligations. It can never make an act wrong in itself.
This is a fatal challenge. On a Darwinian view, there can be no such thing as “goodness for its own sake”—goodness for the inherent good of goodness—because “good” can only exist in the evolution-deluded minds of its subjects, and that’s relativism.
The moral argument for God stands. Darwinism can’t touch it.
In Part II, I will discuss the “grounding” problem, address Sam Harris’s approach to objective morality without God, and answer Christopher Hitchens’s claim that atheists can do any good thing a theist can do.
This was Part I of a II part series on God, Evolution, and Morality. For Part II, Click Here.
1 The other three are the cosmological, teleological (design), and ontological arguments.
2 This form of argument is called modus tollens.
3 Jeremy Rifkin, Algeny: A New Word—A New World (New York: Viking Press, 1983), 244.
4 A. J. Ayer, "Emotivism," published in Louis Pojman, Ethical Theory (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1995), 416.
5 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 31.
6 Philosopher Michael Ruse begins his naturalistic account of morality with, “The matter of scientific fact with which I start this discussion is that evolution is true.” R. Keith Loftin, ed. God and Morality—Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2012), 54.
7 Stephen C. Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt (New York: HarperCollins, 2013), 292.
8 Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos (New York: Oxford University Press: 2012).
9 This is called the “correspondence” view of truth.
10 He may have beliefs, feelings, etc., about rape, but that’s not what he’s describing.
11 Moral relativism, then, is a kind of subjectivism since judgments of right and wrong are completely up to the subject—the individual person or group—to decide.
12 Loftin, 60.
13 Michael Shermer, The Science of Good and Evil (New York: Holt, 2004), 149.
14 Ibid., 56.
15 Ibid., 64.
16 Ibid., 19.
17 Curiously, these are two entirely distinct processes: an event cause (mechanistic, evolutionary forces acting on the genetic code), and an agent cause (cultural norms—a type of human intelligent design).
18 Though some evolutionists focus solely on the genetic contribution.
19 Clearly, there can be objective criteria for, say, human flourishing, but that is not the same as objective morality. If human flourishing is itself an objective moral good, that must be established separately.
20 Loftin, 69.
21 Ibid., 65.
23 Ibid., 68.
24Robert Wright, The Moral Animal (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994), 212.
25 James Anderson, What’s Your World View? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 69.
2. We Don't Lose Hope (1 Peter 1:3-12)Related Media
1 Peter: Suffering Precedes Glory (part 2 of 10)
Hope is an important ingredient in life. Suffering would be practically intolerable without it. God knew this, of course. So He gave us the gift of hope. Hope is present in us when life is relatively comfortable. But hope is essential when life offers us its worst. During those deep valleys we cling to it in desperation. We rest on God's promises of a better future where our unfading inheritance awaits us. This enables us to experience joy even when we suffer. Because of God's gracious provision, we don't lose hope.
How to Respond to Claims Jesus Is a “Copycat Savior”
With the rise in popularity of movies like and , skeptical objections to the historicity of Jesus sometimes take the form of comparisons between Jesus and ancient mythologies preceding Him. Skeptics highlight similarities between Jesus and Horus, Mithras, Osiris or other ancient examples of “dying and rising” saviors. How should we, as Christians, respond to such objections?
1. Expose the False Claims:
Close scrutiny of pre-Christian mythologies reveals they are less similar to the story of Jesus Christ than critics claim. The gods of mythology were not as Jesus was born to Mary, they did not live a life that was similar to Jesus in detail, they did not hold the titles attributed to Jesus, and they were not resurrected in a manner remotely similar to the resurrection of Christ. Primitive mythologies simply fail to resemble the Biblical account of Jesus when they are examined closely. Expose the false claims of those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
2. Expose the Errant Strategy:
Critics typically from the mythological attributes of a variety of pagan gods and exaggerate the alleged similarities to construct a profile vaguely similar to Jesus. They search for singular similarities to the Christ of the Bible and then assemble these similarities from a variety of gods spanning the centuries and originating in geographically diverse regions (as if the 1st Century creators of the Jesus story would have access to these mythologies in the first place). Given this strategy, nearly any person from history can be said to be a recreation of preceding characters, either fictitious or historical. There is no single prior mythology significantly similar to Jesus. Expose the selective strategy of those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
3. Expose the Common Cultural Expectations:
Many alleged similarities are extremely general in nature and would be . The primitive cultures who were interested in God's nature reasoned He would have the ability to perform miracles, teach humans and form disciples. These are universal expectations failing to invalidate the historicity of Jesus. As Paul recognized on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31), men thought deeply about the nature of God prior to His arrival as Jesus. Sometimes they imagined the details correctly, sometimes they didn't. Expose the common cultural expectations of ancient people groups to those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
4. Expose the Unlikely Approach Being Offered:
It is unreasonable to believe Christian conspirators would create a story designed to convince Jewish believers Jesus was God by inserting pagan mythological elements into the narrative. Judaism is a uniquely monotheistic religion, and the God of Judaism provides strict prohibitions against the worship of pagan gods. It is unreasonable to think the New Testament authors would utilize pagan mythology in an attempt to influence adherents of Judaism. Expose the unlikely nature of this claim by those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
5. Expose the Reliable Nature of the Gospel Eyewitness Accounts:
There are sufficient reasons to believe the history of Jesus is reliable, even if there are marginal similarities between Jesus and pagan mythologies. The evidence for the , the corroboration of their claims (both internally and ), the , and the on the part of their authors provides sufficient reason to believe they accurately describe the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Prior mythologies were not written, nor were they intended to be considered, as true history; the Biblical account of Jesus is a reliable historical record. Expose the reliable nature of the Gospels to those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
Take the time to study the truth about alleged similarities between Jesus and ancient pre-Christian mythologies of “rising and dying” saviors. Claims of similarities are extremely exaggerated and based on the selective promotion of the common expectations of cultures contemplating the nature of God. The ancient Jewish audience of the Gospel authors would never have accepted such claims, and the reliable nature of the Gospels can be established beyond reasonable doubt.
Bible Story of God Leadership Institutes
BSOG Leadership Institutes
This Bible storying and storytelling Institute has been developed for laity as well as established pastors and leaders who desire to learn practical techniques and strategies for Bible teaching and telling. Studies remind us that 70% of the world population either has literacy issues or prefers learning the Bible through auditory approaches, i.e., storytelling.
This institute empashsizes not only a storytelling approach but teaching God’s Word though a chronological system of stories that not only tells the stories of God but tells and teaches the Story of God, the Bible, so that the listener and learner fully understands God’s story and plan for mankind.
This program has been taught in three U.S. colleges and universities, as well as at Millar College of the Bible in Saskatchewan, Canada, The Bible College of Malaysia, and the Asia Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in addition to dozens of world locations through mission organizations and other ministry projects.
Each class is 1 ½ - 2 hours and are offered according to the host church or organization’s schedule and location. Classes can be provided individually or in one program over a full day.
Relational Training – Small Group Break-Out Approach
This training uses two major approaches that may be different from other training formats; a tag team teaching approach and a small group break-out hands-on application process. This is what we call “relational training,” as unlike other training formats this encourages those in the training classes opportunities to share their thinking and processing the course content with others “during” the training rather than reflecting or debriefing at a later time.
In relational training each person in the class brings to the discussion a wealth of information, perspectives and input from their own past experiences and backgrounds.
You will also find in this seminar program a major reduction on media supportive technology and extensive printed material. This is also intentional and in many settings advanced teaching technology is not always readily available and one of the purposes of this training is for it to be duplicable and expandable. That means those who have taken these classes would be very capable of serving on a training team and teaching this same content to others at a later time.
In order for this to occur, this seminar cannot depend on technology or extensive printed material that could possibly need translation and printing or equipment that others may not have. The content must stand alone as much as possible as a training unit that can easily be duplicated and retaught by others.
Hosting a Leadership Institute
BSOG offers this institute free for use by churches, ministries and international missions. Orientation of the institute content by one of the BSOG instructors, if desired, is available for expenses only of the instructor to train prospective mission teams and others. Currently there are several BSOG trainers available in the U.S. and Canada. BSOG trainers can also be involved in a church or mission organization mission initiatives on request and accompany teams, also for expenses only.
Kurt Jarvis, Founder
2. Chronological Bible Storying and Storytelling InstituteRelated Media
Chronological Bible Storying and Storytelling Institute
Session 1: Chronological Bible Storying
Session 2: Bible Storytelling
Session 3: Bible Storytelling Techniques
Session 4: Team Bible Story Preparation
Session 5: Bible Storytelling Presentations
3. Children’s Ministry Leadership InstituteRelated Media
Children’s Ministry Leadership
1. Ministry Resources Bible
2. Spiritual Formation
3. Individual Characteristics & Personalities
4. How Memory Works
5. Bible Teaching for Mixed Ages and Abilities
6. Multi-sensory Teaching
7. Bible Teaching Ideas
8 Intro to Chronological Bible Storying
9. Bible Storytelling Techniques
10. Ministry Master planning & Program Planning
1. Bible Story of God Leadership Institutes 1-2Related Media
Bible Story of God Leadership InstituteCourse Outline
This leadership course is intended to serve as a hands-on, practical applied training program that gives both foundations of ministry as well as the practical applied of teaching ideas and resources that leaders and teachers can use in almost any country and culture. The training sessions include hands-on ideas and resources that teachers, workers and leaders can make and use immediately in their church programming. In most situations, material is available in the country where the training takes place. The teaching sessions are all also developed in a format with as much reduced text as possible so that student outlines that require translation can be kept to a minimum.Section 1
Session 1: The Marks of a Leader and Personalities
Session 2: Basic Bible Doctrine
Session 3: Chronological Bible Storying
Session 4: Faith Development & Teaching Salvation
Session 5: Bible Teaching Ideas
Session 6: Learning Styles – Age Level Characteristics
Session 7 Bible Memory & Bible Memory Activities
Session 8: Developing a Creative Bible Lesson
Session 9: Ministry Master-planning
Session 10: The Discipled Leader
Lesson 53: The Blind See, but the Seeing are Blind (John 9:35-41)Related Media
May 4, 2014
We’ve all heard “good news, bad news” jokes. Here are a couple aimed at me as a pastor (from cybersalt.org):
Good News: The Women’s Guild voted to send you a get-well card.
Bad News: The vote passed 31-30.
Good News: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.
Bad News: You were on vacation.
Our text gives us good news and bad news, but it’s not a joke. It’s deadly serious! The best possible news is: Jesus! The worst possible news is: Jesus! For many, Jesus is good news because He opens their blind eyes and gives them eternal life. For many others, Jesus is bad news because they reject His gift of sight and they will face eternal judgment (see 1 Pet. 2:6-8 for the same truth).
In other words, Jesus always divides people into one of two camps: Those who believe in Him for salvation receive eternal life; those who reject Him are hardened in unbelief and face eventual eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46). There is no third category. So, be very careful how you respond to Jesus!
We come to the conclusion of the story of Jesus healing the man who was born blind. As we’ve seen, this miracle, which Jesus performed on the Sabbath, caused a division among the Pharisees: Some said (9:16), “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others argued, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” The prevailing group were those that contended that Jesus was not from God, who in a few months succeeded in crucifying Him. They couldn’t refute the reasoning of the blind man, so they threw him out of the temple (9:34). Our text picks up the story when Jesus found the rejected man and asked him a crucial question, bringing him to solid faith. The story concludes by contrasting the blind man’s faith with the hard hearts of the unbelieving Pharisees. The lesson is:
Jesus came to give sight to the spiritually blind, but also to bring those who think they see without Him to judgment.
To quote Jesus (9:39), “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Our text falls into two sections: (1) The blind see (9:35-38); (2) The seeing are blind (9:39-41).
1. The blind see: Jesus came to give sight to the spiritually blind (9:35-38).
Jesus heard that the Jewish leaders had kicked this man out of the temple, which was a serious matter in that society. His neighbors would have shunned him out of fear of having the religious police target them. Although now the man was physically able to work for the first time in his life, no one would hire a man who had been excommunicated by the religious authorities. Probably many in the marketplace would also refuse to do business with such an outcast. But it was at this time, perhaps as he was standing in bewilderment outside the temple precincts, that Jesus found him and asked him the most important question in the world (9:35), “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (The KJV and NJKV read, “Son of God”; but “Son of Man” is almost certainly the original text.) These verses contain five important lessons:
A. Jesus takes the initiative by seeking those who are blind.
“Finding him” (9:35) implies that Jesus was looking for him. Jesus said (Luke 19:10), “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The religious crowd had rejected this poor man. He was an outcast from society. But at that very moment, Jesus went looking for him and brought him to solid faith by asking, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The former blind man asked (9:36), “Who is He, Sir, that I may believe in Him?” (The same Greek word may be translated either “sir” or “Lord,” depending on the context. In 9:36, the blind man does not yet know Jesus as Lord, so it should be translated, “sir.” In 9:38, he recognizes Jesus as the Lord who opened his eyes, so there it should be translated, “Lord.”). Jesus’ reply must have thrilled his soul (9:37): “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” The man had not yet seen very many people, but now he saw Jesus and he recognized his voice as that of the man who had healed him. And so he instantly believed in Jesus.
The Bible repeatedly stresses that if you believe in Jesus, it’s not because you came up with the idea first and went looking for Him. Rather, God chose you in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). He sought you when you were dead in your trespasses and sins and granted saving faith to you as His gracious gift (Eph. 2:1-9). Thus our salvation is “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6). If you chose Him by your own free will, then you can share the glory for your salvation. But if He chose you apart from anything meritorious in you, then He gets all the glory (see 1 Cor. 1:26-31).
B. Jesus alone has the power to open blind eyes.
Opening blind eyes is a God-thing (Ps. 146:8). As the former blind man pointed out to the Pharisees (John 9:32-33), “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” As Jesus’ dialogue with the Pharisees at the end of this chapter shows, this miracle was also a parable about salvation. Just as opening the eyes of one born blind is something that only God can do, so saving a soul is something that only God can do. It takes His mighty power to impart new life to those who are spiritually dead in their sins.
While (as we’ll see in a moment) to be saved, sinners must believe in Jesus, they cannot believe simply by exercising their own will power. As John 1:12-13 states, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Or, to use the blindness and light metaphor (2 Cor. 4:4, 6), Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Then, how can we gain spiritual sight? Paul continues, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Just as God’s power spoke light into existence, so His power opens blind eyes when He saves a soul.
C. To move from spiritual blindness to sight, admit that you’re blind.
Of course, the man who was born blind had no problem admitting that he could not see. That was obvious. But the proud Pharisees thought that they were the only ones in Israel with spiritual sight. They imply this when they railed against the former blind man (9:34), “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they imply it in their sarcastic question to Jesus (9:40), “We are not blind too, are we?” But Jesus replied (9:41), “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” In other words, if they would have admitted their blindness, Jesus would have healed them by forgiving their sins. But since they insisted that they could see, they remained in their sins.
One of the main things that keeps people from gaining spiritual sight is that they refuse to admit that they’re blind. They think that they’re good enough to qualify for heaven. They may admit that they need a little boost from God. But they minimize their sins. They won’t admit that they’re totally blind and that they don’t just need bifocals; they need sight! As the old hymn, “Rock of Ages,” put it:
Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save and Thou alone.
So, to move from spiritual blindness to sight, admit that you’re blind.
D. To move from spiritual blindness to sight, believe in Jesus for who He is.
Jesus’ question to this formerly blind man is the most important question you can ever answer: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” You must answer that question, either now or at the judgment, when it will be too late. Your eternal destiny hinges on answering that question rightly: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” To answer it rightly, answer these three questions:
1) Who is the Son of Man?
The former blind man asked Jesus (9:36), “Who is He, Sir, that I may believe in Him?” That question parallels Jesus’ question to the twelve (Matt. 16:15), “Who do you say that I am?” It’s the most important question in all of life to answer correctly. Faith is only as good as its object. If you believe in a false Jesus, you cannot be saved, any more than if you believed in an idol. So this question is crucial so that you believe in Jesus for who He is.
The title “Son of Man” is used over 80 times in the Gospels, including 12 times in the Gospel of John, plus four other times in the New Testament (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [Zondervan], ed. by Merrill Tenney, 4:203, 5:485-486). It almost always occurs on the lips of Jesus referring to Himself. It was not an accepted or widely used messianic designation in Jesus’ day. He may have used it because it avoided the political overtones that “Messiah” carried at that time. It was a way of alluding to and yet veiling His messiahship. It shows Him to be the representative man, the last Adam, and thus has nuances of humanity in it.
But it also has overtones of deity, stemming from Daniel 7:13-14, where the Son of Man receives an everlasting kingdom where all people serve Him. At Jesus’ trial, the high priest commanded (Matt. 26:63), “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, alluding to Daniel 7 (26:64), “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” In John’s Gospel, the term is always associated either with Christ’s heavenly glory or with the salvation He came to bring.
D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 376) argues that in light of John’s usage of the term, “Jesus is inviting the man to put his trust in the one who is the revelation of God to man…. Jesus himself is the Word incarnate, the one who uniquely reveals God.” Carson also points out that the term in John is connected with Jesus’ role as judge (5:27), which relates to John 9:39-41.
So the correct answer to “Who is the Son of Man?” is, “He is the eternal Word who took on human flesh and offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins (John 1:14, 18; 3:13; 12:23, 32, 34). He is risen from the dead and one day He will judge all the living and the dead (5:27). He is the one in whom we must believe.
2) What does it mean to believe in Him?
In a nutshell, it means to trust Jesus to do what He promised to do. He told the woman at the well that if she asked, He would give her living water (4:10). She asked and He gave! He told the royal official whose son was sick (4:50), “Go, your son lives.” He believed Jesus and left for home and found his son healed. Here, He told the blind man to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash. He went and washed and came away seeing. Jesus promises to give eternal life to whoever believes in Him (3:16). To believe in Him means that you stop believing in your own good works as the way to heaven (as the Pharisees did). To believe in Him means to admit that you’re a sinner and to trust that His death on the cross will atone for all of your sins. Trust Him as you would trust a doctor by taking the prescribed medicine. But there’s a third question that you need to answer to move from spiritual blindness to sight:
3) Do I believe in Him?
This blind man had obeyed Jesus implicitly by going to the pool and washing. He miraculously experienced having his eyes opened. He had borne witness before the hostile Sanhedrin to the point that they kicked him out of the temple. But he still needed to answer this question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
So, don’t take the question for granted! You may think, “I grew up in the church. I’ve always believed in Jesus.” But, do you trust in Him personally as your only hope for heaven? Perhaps you have always tried to obey the Bible’s teaching and lead a moral life. Great, but do you believe in Jesus as your Savior from your sin? Maybe you’ve even preached the gospel to others. Charles Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 36:232) tells of a preacher he knew who got saved while preaching his own sermon! Finally, a saved person in the congregation recognized the change that had come about during the sermon and he cried, “The parson’s converted. Hallelujah!” Everyone broke out in cries of praise and they all joined in singing the doxology! So each of us needs to answer the question, “Do I believe in Jesus?”
But, how can you know if your belief is genuine? After all, we’ve seen several instances in John where people professed faith in Jesus, but it wasn’t genuine saving faith. There are other signs of new life in Christ, but this former blind man reveals these:
E. When you truly believe in Jesus, you gain spiritual sight, confess Jesus as Lord, and bow before Him in worship.
He was blind, but now he saw (9:25). He testified of Jesus as Lord as best as he knew how to these intimidating Jewish leaders. As I mentioned, the Greek word in 9:38 should be translated, “Lord, I believe.” He confessed Jesus as Lord. And, he bowed before Him in worship. At this point, he may not have fully understood that Jesus was God manifest in the flesh. But he was giving Jesus far more honor than one would give to an ordinary man or even to a prophet (John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 389). Carson (p. 377) says that while it is not clear that he was yet addressing Jesus as “my Lord and my God,” as Thomas did after the resurrection, it is likely that he was “offering obeisance to Jesus as the redeemer from God, the revealer of God.”
Can you say, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see”? Do you openly confess Jesus as your Lord? Do you bow before Him in worship, not just outwardly, but in spirit and in truth (4:24), and not just on Sundays, but all through the week? Those are some of the marks of genuine saving faith.
But, sadly, the story does not end there, with the blind man seeing. It goes on to warn us by showing that there are some who think they see, but they’re really blind:
2. The seeing blind: Jesus came to bring those who think they see without Him to judgment (9:39-41).
While the blind man illustrates those who progress in faith to the point of worship, the Pharisees show us that some regress irretrievably in unbelief to the point of judgment. Jesus has already warned them (8:21, 24) that unless they believed in Him, they would die in their sins. Now, He says (9:39), “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” When they sarcastically retort, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus answers (9:41), “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” Briefly, note three things:
A. To stay in spiritual blindness, insist that you see on your own and thus have no need for the Savior.
As we’ve seen, the way to see is to admit that you’re blind. Jesus is in the business of opening blind eyes. But if you assert that you see quite well without Jesus, then He will leave you in your blindness. In other words, pride keeps you from grace. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5).
B. To stay in spiritual blindness, reject the gift of sight that Jesus offers to you.
Verse 41 is a gracious offer of salvation: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” Jesus is saying, “If you would admit your blindness, I would heal you and you would not come into judgment. But your stubborn rejection of Me keeps you in your sins.” Rejecting the light that God graciously gives leads to further hardening and judgment.
C. The result of rejecting spiritual sight is to be hardened in unbelief that culminates in eternal judgment.
There is a scary principle in the Bible: If you reject the light that God graciously gives you, He will confirm your rejection and leave you in your blindness. In Matthew 13, the disciples ask Jesus why He spoke to the people in parables. He responds (13:14-15) by citing the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9:
“In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.’”
This means that the way you respond to the question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” has huge consequences! If you shrug your shoulders and say, “I don’t know,” or “I don’t care,” or “I’ll think about it later,” you’re closing your eyes to the light that God is offering you. He is not obligated to give you any more light. If you keep on rejecting His gracious offer of salvation, you may keep on hearing without understanding and keep on seeing without perceiving. Your heart may grow dull and you may die in your sins, only to face eternal judgment.
Maybe you’re wondering, “How can Jesus say here, ‘For judgment I came into this world,’ when John 3:17 states, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world would be saved through Him”? If you keep reading John 3:18-21, the concept of judgment is implicit in Jesus’ coming, although it wasn’t His primary purpose for coming. John 3:18-19 states, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”
The purpose of the sun is to give light, but light by its very nature casts shadows. Jesus’ coming as the Light of the world means that the shadow of judgment is necessarily cast on those who reject Him. So by His very nature Jesus divides all people into two camps. Some allow the light to expose their sin and ask Jesus to cleanse them and give them sight. Others hate the light because they love their sin. They reject Jesus and come under His judgment.
So Jesus is either good news or bad news for you, and I assure you, He is no joke! Your eternal destiny hinges on your response to Jesus’ question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Join the former blind man by responding, “Lord, I believe.” And fall at His feet in worship!
- Some argue that we should not bring up judgment or hell when we share the gospel, but only focus on God’s love. Is this biblical? Why/why not?
- Why is self-righteousness one of the greatest hindrances to believing in Christ? How can we help such people see their sin?
- Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons claim to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Why is their faith not saving faith?
- Gaining spiritual sight, confessing Jesus as Lord, and worshiping Him are three evidences of genuine saving faith. What are some others (give biblical references)?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)
Lesson 54: The True Shepherd and His Sheep (John 10:1-6)Related Media
May 11, 2014
When I was in seminary, my professors in preaching classes all strongly emphasized the need to be clear when you preach. One professor often repeated, “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” In other words, if you’re slightly fuzzy in your preaching, your congregation will be completely lost in the fog.
While I agree with that and I work hard to be clear, I sometimes wonder what kind of grade in preaching class the greatest preacher who has ever lived would have received. And I wonder whether He would be well-received as a preacher in modern evangelical churches. The reason I say that is that Jesus often left His audience—including His inner circle of followers—confused about what He was saying. It’s not that Jesus was unclear, of course. He knew the truth of God as no one else has ever known it. But often He deliberately spoke in cryptic language, leaving His hearers scratching their heads about what He meant. That was the case in our text, as verse 6 shows: “This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.”
This text is the closest thing to a parable in John’s Gospel. It’s more like an allegory or a symbolic illustration. But Jesus often spoke in parables. Matthew 13:34 says, “All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable.” Parables revealed the truth to those who really sought it, but it also concealed the truth from scoffers and those who were ambivalent about it. In verse 6, “they” refers to the Pharisees, with whom Jesus was speaking in John 9:41. They didn’t get it. But there are still a lot of divergent opinions among commentators today on the exact interpretation of the details here.
One key to understanding this passage is to view it in its context. John did not divide his Gospel into chapters and verses, so we should not draw a line between the end of chapter 9 and the beginning of chapter 10. There is no transitional phrase, such as “after these things,” or other time markers. When we get to 10:22, John designates the time as the Feast of Dedication, which took place in the winter. But verses 1-21 were probably connected with the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths, 7:2), where the events of chapters 7-9 took place. John 10:21 refers back to the healing of the blind man in chapter 9. And, Jesus’ words, “Truly, truly,” which begin chapter 10, are never used elsewhere to begin a new discourse (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 501).
So we should understand John 10:1-21 as being closely related to the events in John 9, where Jesus healed the man born blind. The connection is: The Pharisees, who were the religious leaders in Israel, should have been faithful shepherds over God’s flock, but they had failed. The story of the blind man illustrates this when they get frustrated with his testimony concerning Jesus and throw him out of the temple. Not once did they rejoice over the wonderful fact that this man’s eyes had been opened. Rather, they were more concerned that Jesus had violated their legalistic Sabbath rules than they were about this man.
We saw the same thing in chapter 5, when Jesus healed the lame man by the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. The religious leaders didn’t rejoice that this poor man had been healed. Rather, they wanted to get Jesus for violating their Sabbath rules. They also reveal their contempt for the people they should have been tenderly shepherding when they say (7:49), “But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.” As shepherds they should have taught the people, but instead they ridiculed them for their ignorance. They used their power to keep the people in fear, threatening them with excommunication if they confessed Jesus to be the Christ (9:22). And we see their arrogance and lack of concern for the flock when they told the blind man (9:34), “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” These Pharisees were not faithful shepherds over the Lord’s flock.
So in John 10, Jesus draws a sharp contrast between them as false shepherds, whom He calls thieves and robbers (10:1), and Himself as the true shepherd. Many Old Testament passages picture the Lord as the shepherd over His people (notably, Psalm 23). If in the Old Testament the Lord is the shepherd of His people and in the New Testament, Jesus is the shepherd, it shows that Jesus is the Lord.
Probably Jesus paints the picture in John 10 against the backdrop of Ezekiel 34, where the Lord castigates the religious leaders of Israel for being self-centered, greedy shepherds who used the flock for their own comfort and gain, but failed to care tenderly for the hurting. The Lord pronounces judgment on those false shepherds and promises (Ezek. 34:23), “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.” That prophecy was fulfilled by the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the good shepherd of His sheep (John 10:11).
So John 10 gives us a symbolic picture of what has just happened in John 9. It also affirms the blindness of the Pharisees, who don’t understand this picture (9:40-41; 10:6). John 10:1-18 falls into three sections: In 10:1-6, Jesus contrasts Himself as the true shepherd with these self-centered false shepherds. In 10:7-10, He portrays Himself as the door of the sheepfold, who, in contrast to these false shepherds, came to give abundant life to His sheep. In 10:11-18, He explains how as the good shepherd He lays down His own life to provide life for His sheep. Today we can only look at 10:1-6, which shows Jesus to be the true shepherd of Israel in contrast to these self-centered false shepherds. The point is:
Jesus’ credentials and His qualities prove Him to be the true shepherd, whom His sheep follow.
We’ll look first at Jesus’ credentials, then at His qualities, and finally at what He says about His sheep.
1. Jesus’ credentials prove Him to be the true shepherd.
“Truly, truly” (10:1) alerts us that this is something that we need to perk up and pay attention to:
A. Jesus the true shepherd warns the flock about false shepherds (10:1).
John 10:1: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber.” Jesus was both rebuking the Pharisees who were listening to Him and warning His followers, including the former blind man, not to follow these false shepherds, whom Jesus calls thieves and robbers.
I read once about a seminary class that spent a semester searching the New Testament to discover which truth is emphasized more than any other. To their surprise they found that warnings against false teachers top the list, ahead of love or any other virtue. Jesus Himself warned (Matt. 7:15), “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” The metaphor pictures the deceptiveness and the self-centered destructiveness of false prophets. They fool the sheep into thinking that they are sheep, and thus gain access to the flock. But their aim is not to build up and care for the flock, but to ravage them for their own selfish purposes (see also, 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 2 Peter 2; and 1, 2, & 3 John).
Satan’s aim is never to build up or care for people! He always seeks to destroy (John 10:10; 1 Pet. 5:8). And he often uses as his agents men or women who pose as true believers to cause destruction in the church. They seem to know the Bible and teach the Bible, which gains them a hearing among those who profess to know Christ. But their teaching and their practices do not lead people toward godliness, but toward destruction.
“Thieves” and “robbers” have slightly different meanings. Thieves tend to use cunning and deception. They break into your house when you’re gone or are asleep and steal without your knowing it. Robbers are more aggressive. They hold you up at gunpoint and force you to give up your valuables. But in both cases, they don’t care about you. They only want to profit at your expense. They want to use you to further their own selfish ends.
Note two important lessons here: (1) Being grounded in sound doctrine is essential, not optional. False teachers do not wear blinking neon signs saying, “I’m going to lead you astray!” They’re subtle and just slightly off. You have to know and be able to defend from Scripture the core doctrines of the faith. And you need to know how to distinguish the core doctrines, where compromise is fatal, from secondary doctrines that are not as essential for spiritual health.
(2) Christlike shepherds warn their flocks about false teachers. If Jesus, the true shepherd, warned about false teachers, then His undershepherds must also warn about false teachers if they are faithful to Him. To put it another way, Jesus was not always “nice” and “positive.” Read Matthew 23, where He pronounces woe after woe on the scribes and Pharisees, whom He repeatedly calls “hypocrites.” Both Paul and John pointed out false teachers by name (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17; 4:14; 3 John 9-10). People have criticized me because at times I have named false teachers or heretical groups. But if I leave it vague and general, people don’t connect the dots. I would not be a faithful shepherd if I didn’t specifically warn you about false teachers.
B. Jesus the true shepherd entered by the door (10:2).
John 10:2: “But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep.” The Greek construction warrants the better translation, “is the shepherd of the sheep” (Morris, p. 502). Jesus was referring to Himself as the legitimate shepherd of God’s flock because He entered the fold by the door. Some (e.g. J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], p. 175) jump down to 10:7 and identify Jesus as the door. While that’s true in 10:7, importing that identification back into 10:2 is to confuse two different metaphors. In 10:1-6, Jesus is the true shepherd who enters the fold by the door. In 10:7-10, Jesus is the door with no reference to the shepherd. Then in 10:11-18, Jesus is again the good shepherd.
To understand 10:1-5, you need to have a mental picture of a sheepfold in that day. Each village would have a common walled-in fold where every evening the different shepherds from the village would bring all their sheep. There was one door or entrance to the fold, which often was just an opening. The doorkeeper would guard the door by lying across it, making sure that wild animals or robbers would not enter to harm or steal the sheep. In the morning, the shepherds would return, the doorkeeper would open to them, and they would call their sheep out to lead them to pasture during the day.
Some commentators (e.g. Calvin) hesitate to get specific about what each figure in this allegory represents, but I think we can make some helpful identifications. The fold is Judaism or Israel. Jesus is the true shepherd, who enters the fold to lead His genuine sheep, those whom the Father has given to Him (10:27-29), out to pasture. The man born blind is an example of this. The Pharisees are the thieves and robbers, who are not genuine shepherds.
But, what does the door represent? While in 10:7, the door is Christ Himself, in 10:2 the door is the Messianic office as described and prophesied in the Old Testament, which sets forth the credentials of the coming Messiah. He would be born of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), a descendant of David (Isa. 9:7; Jer. 33:17). He would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2) to a virgin (Isa. 7:14). He would give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and cause the lame to walk (Isa. 35:5-6). He would be the prophet greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15). He would be a light to shine on all who are in darkness (Isa. 9:2; 42:6; 49:6). He would provide the water of God’s Spirit to thirsty souls (Isa. 44:3). John has shown us how Jesus fulfilled many of these and other Old Testament prophecies.
In his amazing little book, Science Speaks ([Moody Press], pp. 99-112), math professor Peter Stoner takes just eight Old Testament prophecies about Christ and assigns to each one conservative odds with regard to the question (p. 106), “What is the chance that any man might have lived from the day of these prophecies down to the present time and have fulfilled all eight?” He comes up with the answer of one in 1017.
Then he helps us picture this huge number. If you take 1017 silver dollars and spread them all over Texas, they would cover the entire state two feet deep. Mark one of the silver dollars, mix it into the whole, blindfold a man and tell him that he can go as far as he wants, but he must pick the one marked dollar. That is the same chance that Jesus could have fulfilled just eight Old Testament prophecies. But the reality is, Jesus fulfilled over 300 Old Testament prophecies (p. 108)! The point is, Jesus’ credentials show that He is the only person who could enter through the door of the Messianic office as prophesied in the Old Testament.
C. The doorkeeper opened to Jesus the true shepherd (10:3).
Again, some reputable commentators (Calvin, Morris) think that we are going too far to assign anyone specifically as the doorkeeper. Others say that it refers to God or the Holy Spirit or Moses. But in light of John’s Gospel, I think it is reasonable to view the doorkeeper as John the Baptist. He opened the door for Jesus to enter the fold of Judaism as their true shepherd. He was the predicted messenger, who cried out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23; Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1). John pointed to Jesus and said (1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He opened the door for Jesus to enter the fold of Israel.
Thus Jesus came to Israel through the door of prophetic Messianic Scripture and the doorkeeper opened to Him as the true shepherd so that He could call His sheep out of the fold. His sheep are all from Israel whom the Father had given Him (6:37, 39, 10:29). He also has other sheep (the Gentiles), whom He would gather into one flock under Him as shepherd (10:16). Thus Jesus’ credentials prove Him to be the true shepherd.
2. Jesus’ qualities prove Him to be the true shepherd.
Of course, all of Jesus’ attributes show that He is the true shepherd of His sheep. As He will go on to say (10:11-18), the sheep belong to Him because He gave His life to purchase them. But here I can only point out two of the true shepherd’s qualities:
A. Jesus the true shepherd provides personal care for His sheep, calling them by name (10:3b).
John 10:3b: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name ….” The picture here is of a Near Eastern shepherd who spent much time with his flock and who knew each sheep personally. One writer gives an account of this sort of thing (H. V. Morton, cited by Morris, p. 502, note 17):
Early one morning I saw an extraordinary sight not far from Bethlehem. Two shepherds had evidently spent the night with their flocks in a cave. The sheep were all mixed together and the time had come for the shepherds to go in different directions. One of the shepherds stood some distance from the sheep and began to call. First one, then another, then four or five animals ran towards him; and so on until he had counted his whole flock.
Another writer tells of three or four shepherds separating their flocks solely by their different calls (ibid.).
Isn’t it nice when someone knows your name or sends you a personal note? I realize that form letters are necessary and I try to read form prayer letters from missionaries. But if I get one that has a personal note at the bottom, I always read that first. We all appreciate it when someone recognizes us personally.
Jesus does that with His sheep. If you belong to Him, He knows you by name. Unlike me as a pastor with limited storage space in my computer (brain), Jesus never forgets a name. More than that, He not only knows your name, but He also knows everything about you, yet He still loves you and wants to fellowship with you! He is your caring shepherd.
B. Jesus the true shepherd provides leadership and protection for His sheep.
These blessings are implied in John 10:3b-4: [He] “leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Jesus was probably alluding to Numbers 27:16-17, where Moses prayed, “May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep which have no shepherd.” Jesus was leading His true sheep out of the barren fold of Judaism and into the rich pastures of abundant life that He provides.
Note, too, that Jesus doesn’t drive His sheep from behind. He leads them by going ahead of them. He makes sure that the way is safe from predators. He takes them where He knows there are rich pastures for them to feed on. He never takes them where He has not gone Himself, including the valley of the shadow of death. He has been tempted in all the ways we are tempted, yet He was without sin (Heb. 4:15). With such a caring, personal Savior who always has our best interests at heart, we can submit to and follow Him, trusting Him even in life’s most difficult trials.
3. The shepherd’s sheep follow Him because they know His voice, but they flee from strangers whom they don’t know.
John 10:4b-5: “… the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
A. The shepherd’s sheep follow Him because they know His voice.
Jesus repeats that His sheep hear and know His voice in verses 3 & 4. He is not referring to hearing an audible voice, as when people say, “The Lord spoke to me.” Rather, we hear His voice through His written Word, properly interpreted and applied. Granted, sometimes the Holy Spirit impresses a particular verse on our hearts as we read the Bible or through a sermon or a book or a word from another brother or sister in Christ. But it should never be some screwy interpretation of a verse taken out of context. The Lord’s sheep know His voice through His Word because they graze often in it.
B. The shepherd’s sheep flee from strangers whom they don’t know.
One mark of the Lord’s genuine sheep is that they persevere in sound doctrine. In Matthew 24:24, speaking of the end times, Jesus predicts, “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” There will be many false teachers, but it is not possible that they will deceive God’s elect. As Jesus said (John 6:39), “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” (See also, John 10:27-30.) But these promises do not absolve us of the responsibility to grow stronger in sound doctrine so that we will not be deceived. Dig deeper by studying God’s Word and by reading some solid theological books. Then when false teachers try to seduce you, you will flee.
But the bottom line is, it’s not how much you know, but who you know. The Pharisees knew far more theology than the man born blind, but they didn’t know the true shepherd. But the healed blind man now knew Jesus as his shepherd. Do you? Jesus prayed (John 17:3): “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
- If Moses, the Psalms, and the prophets all testify to Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44), Christians should be reading and studying the Old Testament. How should a believer start doing that?
- Although warning about false teachers and refuting their teaching is a main job for pastors (Titus 1:9), many Christians don’t like this and few pastors do it. How can this be corrected?
- How can a believer know whether a thought or impression is truly from the Lord?
- How would your awareness of Jesus’ personal care for you affect how you deal with your current or future trials?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation