Laying Down One’s Life

Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24John 10:11-18

This world described in John 10 is made up of people playing one of three roles.

The vast majority of people are sheep. The is so for two reasons: 1) Most people like most sheep are followers, not leaders. They follow the flock or herd. 2) Sheep need looking after. 1) People follow the herd because they are afraid to think for themselves, or wander too far from the well-worn paths trodden by the others who are important to them. Today, many children rebel against their parents, but many more follow doggedly in their parent’s footsteps, repeating their successes and mistakes, generation after generation. Racism is a good example of repeating a mistake, for it is a learned behavior. 2) People need looking after because they are fearful of making decisions on their own. In his book, “Escape from Freedom,” Eric Fromm says it was because of the average German’s desire to “escape from freedom” that they followed bold preachers like Luther and outrageous political leaders like Hitler and the Nazis. As Christians, we wish we were always right, but this is not so. Luther once opined that he who burns down a Jewish synagogue serves God. Of course, Luther would be the first to remind us that man can be a saint and a sinner at the same time!

The vast majority of people are sheep, but some people are wolves. Wolves are people who have decided that they are superior to everyone else. They look at the rest of us and say, “I am special! My life is more important to me than your life is to you.” I don’t know anybody that belongs to the richest 1% who inhabit our world but I think it is pretty sad that the top 1% of the world’s population holds more wealth than the poorest 40%. Some wealthy people are generous with their money, like Bill and Melinda Gates. Unfortunately, many more are like the late J. Paul Getty, who was at one time the riches man in the world. Criminals kidnapped his grandson and wanted a $2,000,000.00 ransom. Getty refused to pay. A reporter asked, “Mr. Getty, you are the richest man in the world. How much money do you want?” Getty answered, “More.” You and I don’t belong to the 1%, but like them we are shamed by the poor widow of Mark 13 who put two cents into the temple treasury. We give a fraction of our wealth to help others, but she put in her whole living, all that she had.

Some wolves are easy to spot. Others hide in sheep’s clothing. All wolves have a goal–they want to possess the green pastures and still waters of this world, literally. In Ezekiel 34:18 the prophet spoke to the wolves of his world (which he called cows) saying, “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture and drink clear water… you foul the rest of the pasture and water with your feet.”

The vast majority of people are sheep, some people are wolves, and some are shepherds. Unfortunately, some shepherds are just hired hands. They don’t really care for the sheep. When they see the wolf coming they leave the sheep and run away. The wolf then snatches and scatters the sheep. Thankfully, some shepherds are good shepherds who care for the sheep. If they have one hundred sheep, and ninety-nine are safe in the fold, and one is lost, they leave the ninety-nine and look for the one. When they find the one that is lost, they bring it back to the fold rejoicing. Jesus put himself in company with Moses the Lawgiver, King David, many of the prophets, and ahead of them, in the company of God himself when he said, “I am the good shepherd.” Not “a good shepherd,” but “the Good Shepherd.” Like God, Jesus is “the Good Shepherd” because he is the shepherd of all the sheep in all the folds.* (See note at end). He cares about us all. Jesus said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” You know, of course, that he was predicting his death on the cross. Two chapters later, he was also speaking of his death on the cross when he said, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all people unto myself.” His lifting up takes three forms: 1) He was lifted up on the cross. 2) He was lifted up in the resurrection and 3) He is lifted up in the preaching and witness of his disciples.

All followers of Jesus ought to be shepherds. The author of 1st John has John 10 in mind when he writes that “(Jesus). laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

Many religious leaders lay down their lives all at once, like Jesus. Examples include James the son of Zebedee, Peter, Paul, and all the martyrs. Many political leaders also lay down their lives all at once. Examples include leaders like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Likewise, soldiers of all nations often give what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.” That is why the favorite texts of military chaplains is found in John 15:13. There Jesus says, “Greater love hath no one than this, that one lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Some people don’t sacrifice their lives all at once, but they pass through a crisis in which they accept the death of their own ambitions and goals for the sake of something larger. In his book on “Faith: A Journey for All,” Jimmy Carter tells how he and Roselind faced a crisis that called upon them to sacrifice their ambitions and security. He was still farming and selling peanuts. Twenty of his best customers came to him and asked him to join the White Citizen’s Council of Plains, Georgia. They felt Carter had not joined already because he did not understand the importance of segregation. This because he had been serving in fully integrated Navy submarines, which they viewed as a different world than Plains, Georgia. The men had paid his membership fee. The only thing they wanted from Carter was his signature on the application. Carter knew that his business and his future were in the balance, but he followed his conscience and refused to sign. If he had signed that application, he may have been Governor of Georgia, after all even Lester Maddox was elected Governor of Georgia. But Carter would never have become President of the United States. More importantly, he would not have been able to live with himself.

Most of us lay down our lives a little at a time. The late Fred Craddock, onetime Professor of Preaching at Emory Seminary in Atlanta, is a good example. Craddock wrote that when he became a Christian he started looking for ways to lay down his life in service to Christ. He said, “If was as if I had received a $1000.00 check from God and I was constantly on alert so that I could spend it, all at one time in one place.” He said that the problem was that there were many worthwhile opportunities, but they never required the whole amount, so he passed them by. He said that after several frustrating years, one day, in prayer, he mentally returned that $1,000.00 check to God, and asked God to change it and give it back to him in nickels and dimes. From that time forward, he laid down his life, a little at a time, a nickel here, a dime there.

The author of 1st John wrote, “(Jesus). laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” How are you laying down your life? How are you spending your nickels and dimes? Let’s hear a few examples:


The Pastor


*Note: Jesus went first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but he said that he had other sheep, not of (that) fold. He meant the Gentiles.  If we are not Jews, we are Gentiles.  Jesus wants to be the good shepherd of all.

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