Readings: Acts 4:5–12, 1 Jn. 3:16–24 & Jn. 10:11–18
What do we mean when we talk of salvation? In this morning’s reading from the Book of Acts we heard the Apostle Peter proclaim in his sermon before the rulers, elders and scribes in Jerusalem,
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved”.
In this context, salvation seems to amount to human beings being saved. But saved from what exactly?
At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah to come who would save them from oppression under the Roman Empire. But it wasn’t only being saved from oppression that they were waiting for.
For centuries, the Jewish people believed that God had abandoned them. They had been sent into exile by the Babylonians, and Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed. And even though the exiles had been returned to Jerusalem, and the Temple was rebuilt, as we read in the Book of Isaiah, the people still felt a sense of abandonment from God, because they continued to be under the rule of foreign powers right up to the time of the Roman Empire.
So for the Jewish people, being saved not only meant being freed from oppression under a foreign power, it also meant being saved from abandonment by God. It meant being reconciled to God.
And Peter told the rulers, elders and scribes in Jerusalem, that the only way they could be reconciled was if they believed in Jesus Christ. That he was both the Messiah and the Son of God.
The Apostle John also had the same message for readers of his First Letter, when he wrote that they should obey God’s commandment to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.
But we know that a lot of people didn’t believe, and to this day people still don’t believe. In fact, we know that in today’s world, especially in Western society, people are becoming less religious, choosing not to believe in any faith. We definitely see that in Australia, as I have mentioned in previous sermons, when I’ve presented statistics showing the increase in the percentage of people who describe themselves as being of no faith. And I think that is why the prayer initiative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, is such as a great initiative.
As I mentioned last Sunday, and as has been written in the pew sheet for the last two weeks, at the heart of ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, is a simple prayer for more people to come to the Christian faith; for more people to know Jesus. In coming to know Jesus, people come to know God. They are brought into a relationship with God, and they are able to do so because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus talks about this himself in today’s passage from John’s Gospel, which is of course the story of the Good Shepherd. In this story, which we would describe as a parable, Jesus refers to himself as the ‘good shepherd’, the shepherd who is willing to sacrifice his own life, in order to save his sheep.
He contrasts this with the attitude of the ‘hired hand’, who does not have the same attachment to the sheep as the owner, and who runs away in fear of his own life when he sees the wolf coming.
In this parable, the hired hand represents the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders who should have been responsible for bringing the Jewish people to God, but who drive them away from God by insisting that the people observe and uphold the Jewish Law (the Torah), which is virtually impossible to do because of the hundreds and hundreds of different statutes and ordinances contained in the law.
Jesus argues that people don’t come closer to God through obeying the law, but rather by obeying the Two Great Commandments of God: to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love their neighbours as they love themselves. If they live their lives in accordance with these two commandments, then their behaviour and attitude, by default, will ensure they don’t break the important statutes and ordinances of the law anyway.
For as John wrote in his First Letter:
“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”.
In John’s Gospel, when Jesus talks of laying down his life for the sheep, he is talking about the Jewish people; the people of Israel. He (as the Good Shepherd) has been sent by God to save them, because the hired hand (that is the Pharisees) has not saved them.
But then Jesus says that he also has other sheep, which do not belong to the fold of Israel, that he must also save. This is of course, a reference to the Gentiles, to all of the non-Jews. All people of the world, Jew or Gentile, man or woman, slave or free man, can be saved if they believe in Jesus Christ. And that’s what we will be praying for between 10 May and 20 May with ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. That all people of the world may be saved, that is, brought into relationship with God.
Each one of us can do this by praying for five people that we know–be they family members, friends, neighbours or work colleagues – to come to faith in Jesus Christ. To believe that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. And to be brought into the life giving experience of being in a relationship with God.
I would encourage you all to take one of these prayer cards, which are in the card holder on the table at the back of the church, and write the names of five people on the back of the card that you would like to come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Keep this card with you, whether in your pocket, or in your purse or wallet, and pray the prayer (on the front of the card) with those people in mind. Pray it regularly, and pray it often.
The Lord be with you.