Tomorrow many of us will go to a worship service. Some of us will go with specific burdens such as a bad diagnosis, a marriage in trouble, a guilt that needs forgiveness. Jesus did invite us to bring our burdens to him. His compassionate invitation is a gift from God that goes far beyond our capacity to imagine. The rest of us might come with expectations for the service. The music staff will provide dynamic music. The pastor’s sermon will be engaging and winsome. Jesus will naturally work along side us to build the kingdom. Bringing our burdens is a gift; bringing our expectations is a different matter.
The reading is the very familiar feeding of the 5000. The crowd was coming because they saw the miraculous signs that Jesus had performed with the sick. Jesus asked the disciples how are they going to feed all those people and they didn’t have a clue. All they could find was a boy with five barley loaves and a couple fish (the meal of a poor peasant). However in God’s abundance, there was more than enough. Jesus fed all five thousand with a surplus of twelve baskets full. The imagery of God feeding manna to ancient Israel during the exodus couldn’t be ignored. Here was God with them in the flesh but expectations got in the way. They wanted to make him king by force, if necessary. Who wouldn’t want God to be king and give us our hearts desire? Jesus withdrew from them. He was not going to be king of a glorious kingdom built up by human demands. His kingship was going to be about God’s abundance as a gift. The difference between the two is huge.
Some of us will attend worship as a gift tomorrow. The burdens will find their proper place in God’s grace. Our emptiness of soul will be filled by Christ to last for what is eternal life. The feeding of the 5000 was a sign for us. As with all signs, it points to what lies beyond the present. Jesus is that bread of life. God is our sustenance. The problem with our expectations is that no matter how good the music or entertaining the sermon, it will never be enough. We’ll always want more.
Tomorrow, let worship be the gift it is intended to be and let God feed you for eternal life
There are many ways that Jesus has been described but here he is calling himself a ‘gate.’ Gates have two purposes. They keep unwanted things out and they keep what is inside safe. Comparing himself to a gate, Jesus is the means by which his sheep come and go to find pasture. He is also giving a defining contrast to the ‘thieves and robbers’ who only seek to kill and destroy. So who are the ‘thieves and robbers?’
A point to remember is that the Gospel of John was written several decades following Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was also written following the Roman destruction of the Temple which left Jerusalem in rubble. So the Gospel was written to those living in tumultuous times while also having heard the astounding news of Jesus risen.
In the Old Testament, shepherds were the kings and rulers of the people. The judgment against them was how they were willing to sacrifice the people for their own personal gain. Their pursuit of personal goals meant that people would end up killed and that hopes for justice and life were destroyed. Attempts to claim a place in God’s kingdom exposed their true nature and Jesus’ sheep should listen and know the truth against their false claims.
Jesus called himself the gate by which people would come and go to find pasture (life that can only be described as abundant). In contrast to the ‘thieves and robbers’ who cared only for their own benefit, Jesus in the following verses described himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’ because he was willing to lay down his life for the sheep. The contrast couldn’t be greater. Those who listen to the voice of Jesus…who follow his examples of bringing healing to the sick and invitation to the outsider…who announce the news of forgiveness where God welcomes us into relationship with him and each other are his sheep. They are the ones for whom Jesus is the gate, the way, to life that is abundant.
The Gospel of John was written for people facing tumultuous times and we fit that category as well. The message is still the same. There are those looking for their own advantage and benefit. There is Jesus who gave his life for us. Only one is the gate, the way, through which life is going to be found for all.