Have you ever found yourself completely confused by the multitude of religious ideologies being sold in the marketplace? I'm not just talking about the different religions—Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and so on. I mean the different ideologies within the Christian faith. There's quite a bit of diversity there. Many churches teach many different things, and to be blunt, some of them are a little off the wall. There have been times when someone has said to me, "My church believes such and such," and I will ask, "Where did you get such a crazy notion? There's not a single verse in the Bible that comes close to saying anything related to that!"
For my example, I have a friend in Brazil who told me that he had to stop riding his motorcycle, because his church believes that motorcycles are bad. When I asked him why his church believes that motorcycles are bad, he said, "Because bad men ride motorcycles." You can't argue with that logic, can you? Actually, I have seen his motorcycle. It's really more like a moped, and there's no way anyone could possibly mistake him for a Hell's Angel on that thing. But, rules are rules.
I said to him, "If you can't ride it, why don't you sell it?" No, he can't sell it, because motorcycles are bad. Of course, not all churches in Brazil believe this—just his particular branch—but it's a strange idea, isn't it?
We have no right to point our fingers, though. The American church has enough strange ideas of its own. We're sometimes guilty of preaching what C. S. Lewis called "Christianity and Water"—in other words, Christianity and some other ideology, such asChristianity and the Republican Party, Christianity and contemporary music, Christianity and Postmodernism, Christianity and one particular social issue, and on and on. If we're not careful we equate Christianity so closely with another custom or issue or ideology that the gospel message becomes watered down and, eventually, completely obscured.
I don't want to be guilty of preaching Christianity and anything else. I don't want to preach any gospel other than the gospel according to Jesus. The world has enough religion already. It doesn't need me, or us, or this church to add to the ideological cacophony being heard in the public square. Let's just talk about Jesus. What did he say about spirituality and religion? What did he say about knowing God, believing God, following God? Answering this question is our lifelong objective.
Today we'll take one step in that direction. We'll take a first look at some things Jesus said about who he is and what he came to do. We'll look at one verse in particular: John 10:9. These words summarize the heart of his message. These words contain the "Gospel According to Jesus." There are three key ideas in the verse that I want to bring to your attention. First of all ...
Jesus came to bring us to God.
Jesus said, "I am the door" (v. 9). Jesus came to earth proclaiming that he—and he alone—is the way to heaven. He didn't merely come to teach us a way; he said, "I am the way." He didn't merely come to teach us the truth; he said, "I am the truth. He didn't merely come to tell us about life; he came to give us life, because he is life. As theologian Karl Barth said, "Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is himself the way."
In Jesus' own words, he said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the father, but through me" (John 14:6). Jesus came to bring us to God, because we couldn't find God on our own. It's a universal dilemma. There is a gap between us and God, a gap caused by our own self-destructive sin. God didn't create the distance; we created it on our own. Willingly, belligerently, and with great determination, we have each chosen to take our path rather than his path. Each of us has felt that distance at some time in our lives; we all know what it is like to be separated from God.
Tragically, some here today have never known anything different. You've spent your whole life alienated from the God who loves you. You have never experienced a relationship with him. You've never felt like you were worthy enough for your prayers to be heard. You've never had any reason to believe that God is on your side. Jesus came into this world for you. There is gap between you and God, and Jesus came to bridge the gap.
As the apostle Paul said, "But now in Christ Jesus, you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13). Jesus said, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). We were lost, and he came to save us. We were far away and he came to bring us near. Jesus came into the world to bring people to God. He came into the world to bring you to God.
The second thing I want you to notice is ...
Jesus invites you to know him personally.
Jesus said, "If anyone enters through me, he shall be saved" (v. 9). "Through me"—it's a personal relationship.
This is not about church membership. In about the third century, there developed a heresy that said there is no salvation outside the church. In other words, you had to be a recognized member of the church in order to be saved. Through the years it became not so much a matter of having your heart in the right place as much as merely having your paperwork in order.
Even today, there are those with this same attitude: "I am a Christian because I was baptized the right way." "I am a Christian because I am a member of the church, and my church is the only way." "I am a Christian because I was confirmed at the age of 12." "I am a Christian because I was sprinkled as an infant." "I am a Christian because I filled out a card during a revival meeting." And on and on. Being a Christian is not about paperwork. It's about a personal relationship with Jesus—you and him, one on one.
Later in this chapter Jesus says, "I am the Good Shepherd; and I know my own, and my own know me" (John 10:14). It's about knowing Jesus.
Mylon Le Fevre grew up in a gospel music family. He was in church every night of the week, singing and playing and talking about Jesus. At the age of 17, he wrote the song "Without Him." Elvis recorded it and it made Mylon a lot of money. Most of it, he says, he spent on cocaine. At the age of 19 Mylon recorded a Christian rock and roll album and began touring with a band. On stage he preached about Jesus; backstage he lived the stereotypical rock and roll lifestyle.
This went on for a number of years, until Mylon finally came to the end of his rope. In desperation, he called out to Jesus. The next day he said to a friend of his, "I've been singing about Jesus all my life, but last night I met him for the first time." After that, Mylon's music stayed pretty much the same, I suppose, but his life changed. He exchanged a career for a ministry. He exchanged a religion for a relationship, because that's what following Jesus is about. It's a relationship.
In John 14 one of Jesus' followers said to him, "Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said, "Have I been so long with you, and you have not come to know me, Phillip?" (John 14:9). Jesus went on to say that he who has seen him has seen the Father, because he is in the Father and the Father is in him. But Jesus' question to Phillip is one we must consider ourselves: "Have you come to know me?" It's a personal relationship that he seeks with us.
We must learn to make the distinction between knowing about Jesus and knowing him personally. It's like this: Think of someone you love—your wife, your husband, your father, your mother, your best friend—someone with whom you have a dynamic relationship. No doubt you know a great deal of biographical information about this person—where they were when they were born, how tall they are, the color of their eyes, what they like to eat, and what kind of music they like to listen to. You have all kinds of information about this person, but that's not really the core of the relationship. The core of the relationship is that you spend time with this person, you communicate with this person, you think of this person when you're not together. You not only know the color of their eyes, but you know how those eyes are often filled with tenderness and compassion and laughter and joy—and it causes you to love that person more.
That's a relationship, and that's what Jesus wants with you. He wants you to know him personally.
How does that happen? The same way it happens with anyone else: You spend time with him. You talk to him. You listen to him. "Listen to him?" you ask. Yes. You open the Scriptures and listen to him. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27).
The number one priority in the Christian life—what do you think it is? Being good? Being doctrinally sound? Knowing a long list of facts about the Bible? Going to church every Sunday? What's our top priority?
Well, the apostle Paul, certainly one of the most knowledgeable Christians ever to live, said this: "Everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law, but I trust Christ to save me… As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead" (Phil 3:8–10 nlt).
Do you want to be good? Do you want power over sin? Then get to know Jesus. Some of you have never taken that first step. Today you can begin the journey. Some of you did take a first step years ago, but you have never gone further. Today you can begin the journey. Living the Christian life is about a personal relationship with Jesus. He invites you to know him.
This leads us to next thing I want you to notice about the gospel according to Jesus.
Following Jesus is a day-to-day experience.
In mid sentence Jesus makes a change of metaphor. He begins by saying, "I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he shall be saved." Then he says, "[he] shall go in and out, and find pasture" (v. 9). When he says "in and out," he's not talking about going in and out of a relationship with him, being lost and saved and lost and saved. He's talking about the process of discipleship. He's talking about your interaction with him and your interaction with the world.
"Going in" is the time you spend with him—time in worship, prayer, Bible study, meditation, fellowship with other believers and on and on. "Going out" is the time you spend in the world serving him, the time in the trenches. When you enter the workplace, you are going out. When you step foot on the school campus, you are going out. When you spend an evening with friends, you are going out. This is your opportunity to minister in the name of Jesus.
But you will not have power to go out into the world unless you have first received power by spending time in fellowship with him. When Jesus sent his disciples into the world to minister, he said, "Freely you received. Freely give" (Matt. 10:8). You can't give something you don't possess. You can't share with others something that you do not have.
Following Jesus is a day-to-day process of coming in, receiving from him, being ministered to by him, being filled with his Spirit, being anointed with his power, hearing his voice—and the process continues by our going out, showing compassion to a world that doesn't understand compassion, showing mercy to those who have never received mercy, giving love to those who are unlovable, speaking the truth to a world who doesn't believe in truth, and demonstrating what it means to be a follower of Jesus to those who are desperate to find meaning and purpose in life. You go in, you go out.
Notice the next phrase: "and find pasture." Sheep grazing in an open field under the watchful care of a faithful shepherd, feeding themselves to their heart's content. That's how Jesus described the Christian life. Can you imagine that?
What if I compared the Christian life to a spring day in a green meadow sprinkled with flowers, with a gentle brook flowing nearby and a mighty oak tree offering an abundance of shade in which you could spread a lovely picnic to enjoy with the most precious persons in your life. What if I said, "That's what the Christian life is like"?
You would probably say, "What about our problems? What about temptations. What about spiritual warfare? What about all the ills of society?" Jesus never ignored the unpleasant realities of life, but he's telling us that in spite of those things, we can "find pasture" in him. A relationship with Jesus can be like a picnic on a spring afternoon—even in the midst of turmoil.
Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33 kjv). He also said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy and my burden is light' (Matt. 11:28, 30 niv).
Following Jesus is a day-to-day process, and that process can make your life like a picnic. You will find pasture in him. Yes, you will have problems, troubles, tribulations, battles, failures, setbacks, defeats, persecutions, oppositions, betrayals, and disappointments. The circumstances of your life may be full of turmoil, but the substance of your life can be marked by peace and joy and contentment, like feeding to your heart's content in a green pasture. Following Jesus is a day-to-day process, and in that process, Jesus promises to fill your life with peace.
I want us to proclaim the gospel according to Jesus, not according to a religion or a church or a denomination, but according to Jesus. Jesus made this clear: It's not about church membership, not about religious rituals, not about trying to follow a long list of do's and don'ts. It's about a relationship with him. It's about knowing him.
Jesus said, "I am the door." Some churches will say, "Yes, Jesus is the door, but we're the ones with the key." Don't believe them. Neither their church nor this church can save you. But Jesus can, and he will, and he already has done all that it takes for you to be right with God.
You know how the story ends. Jesus died on the cross, and on the third day was raised from the dead. While he was on the cross he paid the price for the sins of the world. He bought your forgiveness, your freedom, your pardon—Jesus, and Jesus alone. Today, if you want to be a Christian, you can begin a new life in him. He came to bring you to God; by his death he did that. He invites you to know him personally; by asking him into your life, you can do that. And he wants it to be a day-to-day thing—not just a religion that you look at from time to time, but a day-to-day relationship, a relationship where you can find pasture, satisfaction, peace, fulfillment, content. It's the ultimate relationship. This is the gospel according to Jesus.