“9 I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and will go out and will find pasture. 10 The thief comes only so that he can steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10)
I don’t know about you but that phrase, “life…abundantly”, bugs me. It is the wicket in which I get stuck. I’m forty years old and I still don’t think I know what it means, probably because I’m forty years old and I still don’t know what life means. But wickets aren’t for sticking, they’re for clearing and living isn’t passive, inert; even the idle rock is growing moss. Living is active, moving, changing, foraging, hunting, eating, pooping and eating some more. So maybe the first conclusion we can draw is: abundant life is one of action?
We see it in the Scripture. There is entering, saving, coming in and going out and finding. These aren’t idle sheep. They’re busy. They’re doing big, important sheep-stuff. They’re living. On a cosmic scale they are just sheep, none of this is earth shattering. No one in a thousand years from now will be putting bits in history books about the sheep that changed the world but to their own lives, this stuff matters. A sheep that lies down and refuses to go out dies. That’s pretty important to the sheep. So maybe my hang up is one of looking for more significance?
There is a question of time in the scripture too. Does the sheep fold refer to our earthly lives? Does Jesus, the gate, guard the passage to Paradise Pastures? Ancient sheep folds might not belong to one man, one flock. Flocks of many owners might all gather their sheep together for the night. When the new day dawned, the shepherds would come and call their own. The sheep would follow only the voice they recognize. The voice they trust. So does this mean we’re all in a fold for the night. Is life just us sheep of Jesus in with the goats of the other guy until morning? Doesn’t sound like there’s much to do there. Is the life abundant something we get later then?
This scripture however sounds like Jesus is guarding the sheep from something on the outside. A thief who wants to steal sheep. No one can snatch sheep out of Jesus’ hand. “37 Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never throw out, 38 because I have come down from heaven not that I should do my will, but the will of the one who sent me. 39 Now this is the will of the one who sent me: that everyone whom he has given me, I would not lose any of them, but raise them up on the last day.” (John 6) So whose sheep is the thief stealing? Apparently, his own. The sheep that would choose to follow him anyway… or at least, buy his lies. And each flock gets the same fate as the shepherd they choose. Christ’s flock suffers a while and then rises to sit on the same throne as Jesus, “The one who conquers, I will grant to him to sit down with me on my throne, as I also have conquered and have sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Rev 3) While those that follow the enemy will enjoy the same fate as he… “Then he will also say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed ones, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels!” (Matt 25)
Now a life upon a throne certainly sounds like an abundant life by any definition. So is this it? Do we muddle and muck about here for fifty to a hundred years and then and only then do we get the life abundant? Should we pray for a short life so we can get on with the real life? Tempting, escapist, but tempting.
In the end, what does your heart tell you? When you read the Scriptures (you do read the Scriptures, don’t you?) what do you see? If Jesus is our model, if he led a perfect life then what do you see in his example? Perhaps Paul says it best to Titus, “3 Remind them to be subject to the rulers and to the authorities, to obey, to be prepared for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all courtesy to all people. 3 For we also were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, enslaved to various desires and pleasures, spending our lives in wickedness and envy, despicable, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love for mankind of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not by deeds of righteousness that we have done, but because of his mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3)
When we believed, Jesus saved us from a life that leads to death, no matter how abundant it may feel (Luke 12: 15-21) and opened up to us a life that leads to more life no matter how poor, stricken or desperate it may feel! The life abundant isn’t one measured in circumstances. It is a life above and beyond our circumstances! Abundant life can be lived in the perfumed halls of power and wealth and it can be lived just the same in the dankest gutter of the darkest slum. No matter what happens now, we have Jesus! He is the Way and the Truth and the LIFE. He becomes a source of regeneration and renewal that never fails, never runs out, never loses strength. The sheep must eat. The sheep must drink. The sheep must rest or they will die.
The good shepherd knows.
“23 Yahweh is my shepherd;
I will not lack for anything.
2 In grassy pastures he makes me lie down;
by quiet waters he leads me.
3 He restores my life.
He leads me in correct paths
for the sake of his name.
4 Even when I walk in a dark valley, I fear no evil
because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare before me a table
in the presence of my oppressors.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup is overflowing.
6 Surely goodness and loyal love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will stay in the house of Yahweh
for a very long time.” (Ps 23)
And that sounds like a pretty abundant life.