John 10:7-18

This morning we conclude our series of messages Having A Heart Like Jesus, as we study what it means to have An Abundant Life.

Our Scripture reading is John 10:7-18

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.

All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.

13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—

15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.

18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Listen to verse 10 again –

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.

What does it mean to have an abundant life?

In the 80s and 90s, Robin Leach became famous with his TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.  Each episode took us into the lives of the fabulously wealthy.  Admittedly, it was hard not to be a bit envious, watching Leach stroll the sprawling grounds of mansions and riding in luxury cars.  His signature line at sign-off, champagne wishes and caviar dreams, was a final reminder of what constituted an abundant life.  Surely, if one wanted an example of abundance, that was it.

The desire of Jesus, as we find in this week’s Scripture reading, is that his followers live an abundant life.  But to Jesus, abundance has a far different meaning from that presented by Robin Leach.

In Luke 12:15 Jesus reminds us that one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  An abundant life, to Jesus, means more than what we can accumulate as we move through life.

The Greek language has two words for life.  One is bios, which is the root of our word biology.  This definition of life is obvious – it is our physical lives and its attendant needs for things such as food, water, and shelter – the biological type of life.  This word, interestingly, is used only sparingly in the New Testament.  As much as the New Testament speaks of life, it rarely is speaking about the biological life.  The Greek word that is most often used in the New Testament is zoe, which is the kind of life that relates to our spiritual selves; it is life that relates to the heart and soul, and not just the physical aspects of life.

When Jesus speaks of life, and having an abundant life, he is not speaking of bios life, but zoe life.  This is a life that is about quality, not quantity.  It’s not about how much a person can accumulate.  It is a life that has to do with fulfillment, but not the kind of fulfillment that comes from large houses and big bank accounts.

C. S. Lewis, described the difference between these two types of life as being similar to the difference between a statue and a man.  A man who changed from having bios to zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved statue to being a real man.  That’s a very dramatic difference.

The two types of life are, indeed, very different from one another, and we live in a culture that seems obsessed with the bios kind of life more than it is the zoe kind of life.  If you put the two kinds of life on a scale the bios – the physical life – would often outweigh the zoe – the spiritual life.  We do, though, see some glimmers of the recognition of the spiritual side of life.  In the midst of all the emphasis on the physical needs of life and the accumulations of life we become aware of the spiritual side of life when we recognize the call to love other people and when we see expressions of love.  We recognize the spiritual side of life when we are in the midst of a moment that causes us to say this is what life is really all about.  Though our hearts often pull us in the direction of accumulations and an emphasis on the physical side of life, our heart will often remind us there is much more to life and will begin to pull us back to the spiritual.

The audience to whom Jesus spoke of an abundant life could not comprehend of an abundant life such as the type found in our materialistic, consumer culture.  His audience was filled with people who struggled to eke out their daily existence.  They certainly saw a few people who had great wealth, but they had no hope of attaining such a lifestyle.  Jesus was not giving them a vision for how they could attain a better standard of living.  Jesus was not selling a first-century version of the American Dream.  He was not promising a life that would be rich in money and wealth, and his listeners did not hear him as doing so.  They knew instinctively that Jesus was speaking of something far deeper.  Jesus was offering a life that provided fulfillment, meaning, purpose, and love regardless of one’s economic or social standing.  It was a message that reminded his listeners, who were under the iron-fisted rule of Rome, that they could live in freedom regardless of their political circumstances.  It was a message that promised that regardless of how tenuous and fragile life might be, life could be full and meaningful, and life would continue after one drew their last breath of bios life.

It is harder, I believe, to get that message through in our culture.  Living as we do, in a time of great prosperity (yes, in spite of all the economic challenges there is still a great deal of prosperity, certainly in comparison to the time of Jesus) there are millions of people who continue to chase the dream of having more and more.  They strive to earn more, to possess more, and in the process neglect their spiritual selves.  In the midst of material wealth we are mired in spiritual poverty.

The message of Jesus was one of running counter to the cultural pull of seeking after only a biological life, the bios life – seeking only the comforts of life, the possessions of life, the attainments of life, and moving to the spiritual life, which is willing to let go of those measures of life as what matters most.

This is why Jesus uses the image of himself as the shepherd and his people as his sheep.  It is the presentation of a way of life that runs counter to a kind of life that, in the end, turns out to not only be an illusion, but can also be a destructive way of life.

If, for instance, we work only for the attainments in life, what does that do to our relationships?  How many marriages have suffered because so much time has gone into work and so little into the relationship?  How many parent/child relationships have suffered because of neglect born from too much time spent on things that do not nurture that relationship?  And what does all that striving do to our souls?  Jesus is trying to bring to us a perspective that will make us think about this contrast of two different ways of living.  It is not a rejection of earning a living and caring for our families and ourselves but is, rather, a reminder of the very real danger of losing our souls in the search for attainment and accumulation.  It is not withdrawing from life but embracing life at its most important.

Sometimes, we need a readjustment of our perspectives, a reminder that there is more to life than just biological life.  Over the course of ministry I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes.  I’ve spent time with individuals and families and in the face of suffering and that is always a reminder that there is more to life than what we can accumulate and accomplish.  If you want an adjustment to life go visit in a nursing home or a funeral home.  But I’ve also learned how quickly we can forget those lessons.  I’ve stood in those places and thought to myself I cannot forget what matters most in life, and not long after I get in my car and start down the road those stark reminders are already slipping away from me.

We have enough of the bios kind of abundance; we have, very often, a superabundance.  We have all the stuff we need.  Drive around a neighborhood in the spring – if spring ever gets here – when people have their garage doors open and look at the amount of stuff that’s piled up.

But in spite of all of the abundance what is it that is so often missing?  It is a sense of security, a sense of purpose, a sense of hope – things that are intangible and spiritual.  Those are the elements of the zoe kind of life, the abundant life of which Jesus speaks.