I am spending a lot of time meditating on John 10 recently. This is the well-known passage where Jesus speaks about being the good shepherd, a theme that’s recurrent throughout Scripture and throughout our services lately (Stephen preached from Psalm 23 last week.) It’s the passage where Jesus talks about His purpose: ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10) Abundant life. Overflowing life. LIfe in its fullest measure. Life that is full and good. Real and eternal life, ‘more and better life than they ever dreamed of’, as the Message version says.
2020 will probably go down in history as the ‘year of the coronavirus pandemic’, where a global pandemic saw lockdowns, deaths and financial and economic collapse. None of that sounds appealing or remotely like ‘abundant life’, and it has been a struggle for many to see positive purpose in these times. Things that were once considered normal and ordinary – meeting with family and friends, attending church services, going shopping or swimming or to the gym, visiting museums, cinemas, theatres or theme parks, going on holiday – were all deemed unsafe, and it has felt like living in a straitjacket in some ways.
Jesus contrasts the life He seeks to bring to us with the purpose of the thief: ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.’ (John 10:10a) Jesus, the good shepherd, has good purposes for the sheep. The hired hands and sheep rustlers don’t. It’s as simple as that.
Sometimes – as now – it’s easy to see the negatives and the downsides of life. But on other occasions, the thief may try to lure us with temptations that are both appealing and attractive. The truth remains that he never has honourable intentions. His purpose is only to steal and kill and destroy.
Rend Collective sing, ‘There is nothing that could ever steal my song’ (‘I Choose To Worship’), but in truth, there are many things that can steal our song or our joy. Circumstances frequently do. When trouble comes our way, we so easily crumble, melting into a pool of misery faster than an ice-cream on a hot day! What we have to do when the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy is to build that altar to the Lord and raise our voices in defiant worship. Only then do we find ourselves protected from theft, death and destruction, because we discover the truth of Ps 119:68. God is good when life is not.
We all like slogans, because they are memorable and sum things up in a nutshell. But slogans need to be based on truth. I’m fed-up with parroting slogans that seem to me to be anodyne and meaningless (or worse: impossible and untrue.) I’ve adopted the lyric from ‘I Choose To Worship’ as my slogan: ‘You are good when life is not.’ I’ve put it up in my living-room to remind me of this truth. God is good. He is the good Shepherd. I’m going to trust His good intentions for us even in the midst of difficult circumstances. The thief may come to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus came so that we may have life in all its fulness and no one is going to be able to take that from us.