Someone broke into a car in our neighborhood last week. It happened during the day when the subdivision was empty and quiet. The thieves broke the lock and stole some important items out of the car. No one heard or saw it happening, but it has left our street feeling vulnerable. People are now wary of leaving their cars on the subdivision roads and everyone is suspicious of strangers coming into the neighborhood. It was a rotten thing to happen to a happy neighborhood. It has left us all feeling insecure and unprotected.
Thieves violate the common trust of the neighborhoods and communities that they rob. They disturb the peace of the people and tear up neighbors emotionally. They become a scourge of society and sadly, because of the times we are in, theft and robbery are increasing. It’s a form of domestic terrorism and it’s something that we all have to combat by being good neighbors and looking out for one another.
1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
In today’s passage, Jesus talks about thieves raiding the spiritual sheep pen of His followers. He’s talking about quack preachers and con-artists, phony gurus and shady characters who seek to fleece the flock and mislead the faithful. They come into the church with their own credentials and ambitions, their own personal creeds and twisted gospels. Instead of being committed to Christ, they are committed to their own esteem and well-being. Instead of following His words and ways, they do what they like and love what they do for themselves. They’ve got no interest in being servants of God and followers of Christ; they’re just in it for themselves and they end up in preaching their own Gospels to justify their own lifestyle choices.
Who do you mean, John? I hear you ask: Joel Osteen is one – he preaches a prosperity Gospel that is more about realizing the American Dream than getting into the Kingdom of God. He mesmerizes thousands of people in his church each week and millions of folk on TV across the country. He uses his $20 million smile and preaches to the camera. He talks about people getting blessings from God and becoming rich through being faithful. He parades about like a marionette puppet expressing a glossy magazine type of Gospel that has nothing to do with the real Christ. And the trouble is this: millions of folks lap it up and pledge their souls to Osteen’s Gospel, not realizing that they have given up faith in the One, True and Living God.
And whilst I’m meddling here instead of preaching, I may as well mention Oprah Winfrey. She used to be a Christian, but all her wealth, fame and popularity has gone to her head and ruined her heart. She’s now promoting a book called “The New Earth” by a new-age spiritual guru called Eckhart Tolle, who wants to start a new religion in which people will no longer be overwhelmed by the Cross of Christ, but will overcome the Cross and live by their own spiritual enlightenment. In other words, Oprah and Tolle are sidelining Christ and His sacrifice in order to promote their own devilish ideas and unchristian opinions. If ever there was a living example of Matthew 16 v 26, it’s Oprah – what good will it be if a person gains the whole world, yet forfeits their own soul?
Do not be deceived folks, Osteen and Oprah have this in common – they are spiritual thieves who will rob you of your faith and lead you away from Christ. Starting soon, on Monday nights and Sunday mornings, I’m going to lead classes on this book “the new Earth” and show you where the dangers lie. And I’m not doing it because I’m jealous of their wealth, influence and popularity, I’ll be doing it because I’m called to guide you through these snakes and vipers, lions and wolves that come to us in sheep’s clothing.
4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
The best way to avoid these false prophets is to keep listening for Christ’s voice in their messages. If He isn’t honored, respected, worshiped and glorified by these kind of preachers and celebrities then you can guarantee that Christ is not speaking through them.
That’s why I preach from the New Testament and the Gospel week after week. It’s to tell you about Christ, His message, His ways, and His lessons. I’m an Old Testament scholar with an Honors degree in Hebrew and was first in my class for translation. I could stand up here Sunday by Sunday and tell you the OT stories in ways that you’ve never heard and give you great linguistic insights into Hebrew words that you’ve never known, but that’s not what I was called to do –
My name is John Stuart and I am a preacher of the Gospel. I’ll preach about His words, not mine. I’ll talk to you straight about Christ being the Only Way, not Oprah’s way; of Him being the Only Truth, not Tolle’s truth, and of being the Only Life, not Osteen’s lifestyle. My purpose of being the preacher at this church is to give you enough information about Jesus, so that you’re attracted to Him, and can begin to hear His Voice in your lives.
When Jesus talks about the sheep knowing and listening to the shepherd’s voice, He’s talking about us hearing Him in our lives. When he teaches His people about the sheep following the shepherd, He’s trying to make them understand that they should follow Him if they want to be with God. It’s plain and simple, and it’s not difficult to see, but it’s too simple for some people, too common and too easy to believe. They want something complicated, unique and individual. They want something elite, exceptional, and edifying to themselves. They don’t want to listen to a mere Shepherd, and they certainly don’t want to be followers. If anything, like Oprah, they want to be their own gods, where they become the Center of the universe and not mere followers, servants or slaves of Christ.
It’s like a billboard that I read this morning coming to church. It’s promoting a new church and has a picture of a sofa on it. It boldly proclaims that Redemption is a real, comfortable church. Comfortable? There’s nothing comfortable about the Gospel or Christianity! The teachings of Jesus Christ are the most meddlesome, confrontational, in your face religious teachings that the world has ever known. If church becomes comfortable, then we have allowed spiritual thieves and congregational robbers to come into our midst.
I wonder how comfortable Jesus was when He was dying in agony on the Cross? I wonder how comfortable the first Christians were when they were plunged into boiling oil or ripped apart by wild beasts in the Coliseum? I wonder how comfortable Christian missionaries were when they were attacked and beaten, tortured and killed no matter where they took the Gospel too? If you want a comfortable church, then go visit Redemption Church in Knoxville, but don’t expect to be redeemed or saved there – that would be too uncomfortable.
The trouble with people today is this: they want to create their own enlightenment, their own faith, their own religion. They don’t want something that is old and outdated, tested and tried, used and second hand. They want to be different from previous generations and better than traditional ways. They want to ditch the baby, the bath water, as well as baptism and beliefs. They just want to do their own thing. In others, they want freedom from faith and religion, demanding it as a constitutional, civil, and universal right.
Which reminds me, today is Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. He was born April 13, 1743, which would make him 265 years old, had he lived. People these days are very quick to point out Jefferson’s wall of separation’ letter to a Danbury Baptist Church meant that Christianity had no place in the heart of the writer of the Declaration, but are they aware of what is written in Jefferson’s personal Bible: “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our creator.” To say that Christianity had no influence over his writing is to diminish Jefferson‘s personal faith.
We can make up our own ideas about faith in God, but in the end we’re only fooling ourselves and missing out on the greatest gift in the entire universe. Christ says it plainly in this Gospel passage:
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. You can’t get any plainer, more direct, or simpler than that. If we want to be saved from the eternal consequences of our sin, if we want to be restored to God’s favor, if we want to enjoy everlasting life in God’s Kingdom, then we can only find it in, through, with and by Jesus Christ.
We don’t get it by watching Oprah and buying into her wacky ways: we get it by Christ.
We don’t get it through Tolle’s book or new age mumbo-jumbo, we get it through Christ.
And we don’t get it through Joel Osteen’s smiley and smarmy, sugary and barmy prosperity gospel, we get it through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whose voice we listen to, whose Cross we cling to, and whose grace we adhere to for our salvation, our pardon, and our eternal life. There is no other way; there is no other gospel, there is no other gateway; there is only Christ.