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When I was sixteen years old, I had three newspaper routes as my part-time job. One evening just after dark, I was out doing the collections from people, when I knocked on the door of an elderly lady who was my customer and who knew me. When I knocked, through the window I saw her go down on her hands and knees and crawl out of sight. Wondering what was going on, I continued to knock. Cell phones were a future commodity, so I couldn’t call for help for a woman who appeared to need it, but I thought there was a problem and I tried to get into her home. After a few minutes of this, the police came. When they saw me, they approached, pointing only a flashlight at me. They asked me what I was doing, and I told them. Without hesitation, they believed me. She came to the door then, realizing who I was and paid for the newspaper (although she canceled her subscription the next day with an angry complaint call to my boss.) It turned out she had been the one who called the police about the strange man trying to get into her home. In her confusion, she was afraid and called them for help. All they knew when they approached me was that an elderly homeowner had called to report an attempted break in and she was scared. But when the police arrived, I was allowed to share my story, which was accepted, and they left without even asking for ID or putting my name on the record in any police report.
But I can’t help asking myself, “What if absolutely everything about the situation I found myself in that evening had been the same, except the color of my skin?” Would I have been given the chance to explain? Would I have been believed? Would I have been arrested for frightening the woman in her home even though that hadn’t been my intent? Or would I have found myself facing the barrel of a gun, thrown down on the ground with my face in the gravel, and handcuffed without even getting the opportunity to explain myself? Even if that didn’t happen, would I have escaped the unfortunate incident with no police record at all as I did, if I had been black?
As white people, we trust the police. If something goes wrong, our first instinct is to call them, not to avoid them. We need to understand that even in today’s America, our black brothers and sisters aren’t afforded that same opportunity to trust. They have reasonable fear that they will be mistreated, disrespected, or even victimized. We don’t hear weekly about some innocent person who looks just like we do getting killed by police who were either making a horrible mistake or who were displaying a level of wickedness unworthy of the badge.
It’s time for us to be honest about this, and admit that skin color is probably the only reason the police were approaching the man in Oklahoma this week with their guns drawn in the first place. His car had broken down. He had neither committed nor been suspected or accused of any crime. And yet when they approached him, one of the white cops said he looked like a bad dude. Crutcher approached them with his hands in the air. (As a white person, would you even think to do that in the same situation?) They proceeded to point their guns at him, make demands, turn him around, and tase him to the ground (a painful assault that shouldn’t ever be allowed on a non-violent combatant). Then one of them starting shooting him. And another got on the radio crying out, “Shots fired! Shots fired!” Wording it that way made it sound like someone other than the police were doing the shooting, but that wasn’t the case.
If you are white, ask yourself, “In my encounters with the police, how many times have they even moved their hands toward their holster, much less taken the deadly weapon out and pointed it at my face?” Even if you were innocent, take a moment to imagine how fearfully you would react to that happening, and you might understand why some of the black men it has happened to react with raised voices and panicked expressions. It is only logical to react like that as an innocent person whose life is being threatened.
The police aren’t five year olds play acting what they’ve seen on cartoons. They are well-trained adults, very keenly aware of the deadliness of a gun. They know very well that it shouldn’t even be in their hands if they aren’t facing a situation that warrants using it. They know it isn’t a toy, but a deadly weapon designed to take someone’s life. And they must use that force only when justified. Stealing cigarettes or selling bootleg cds doesn’t justify it. And certainly approaching an unarmed man whom they knew in advance was just having car trouble doesn’t justify it. Good cops know this. And it is time for us all to stand strongly against those bad ones who don’t. It is also time for us to show the same sympathy and compassion for the families of the victims that we would show if they were white. We haven’t shown that. That’s why the “Black Lives Matter” movement started. Because we in white culture didn’t get that. It’s time we do. And we owe our black brothers and sisters an apology for having taken so long. It shouldn’t have taken viral videos to awaken us to a plight they were already facing before it was exposed online.
In John 10:9-11, Jesus said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find safe pasture…. I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
In the first of two metaphors Jesus gave us about Himself in John 10, He said that He is the door. That’s the door of the fold for His sheep. The sheep metaphorically represent people. The fold represents the Kingdom of God. There is one door—thus only one way into that fold. The door is Jesus. He is the only way in. Try to get in by climbing over the wall, cutting another door through it, or digging a hole under it, and you will fail. Jesus is the door, the only way of entry into heaven.
In the second metaphor, while we remain sheep, Jesus describes Himself as the good Shepherd—the One who gives His life for the sheep.
This is further explained in another passage comparing us to sheep. It says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him (Christ) the iniquity (guilt) of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) That’s God’s indictment of humanity. First, it shows us that God sees all of us together as a sinful group of misguided sheep that left the right path. God created us, and has every right to our perfect obedience and following. But the entire mass of humanity failed together, in Adam our first father, when Adam sinned.
As you’ll read in Genesis 2 and 3, God had given Adam only one rule. Adam had been given a vast garden to delight his every desire, and told that he could have anything he wanted there, so long as he didn’t eat the fruit from the one and only forbidden tree. By eating from that tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam would be disobeying, and declaring his desire to be independent of God’s counsel and walk his own way. When that happens, God told Adam, you will surely die. As our head representative, Adam made an executive decision to disobey on our behalf as well as his own. He ate from the tree, announcing that he and his descendants would be “as God” in deciding right from wrong for ourselves. He regretted the decision as soon as it had been made. Sin, suffering, death, and destruction immediately entered the world. A world God had created without such things and warned Adam that to avoid them he must obey the single rule. But mankind in Adam told God, “One rule is one too many. We will disobey.”
“Wait a minute,” you say. “What do you mean, ‘we‘? Why should we be held guilty because of something Adam did?”
Well, the Bible teaches us that Adam was our head, and all humanity was acting in him in that rebellion against God. And before you say, “but that’s not fair to me; I didn’t get the choice,” you need to know that God says that’s not true. Look again at the verse from Isaiah: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way,” it says. You see, it wasn’t just humanity as a whole being found guilty. It was each one of us individually. When you and I came along multiple generations later, each one of us individually said, “I second Adam’s motion. I also want to do things my way and decide between good and evil. If I want to lie, I will lie. If I want to steal, I will steal. If I want to hurt someone else for my own gain, I will do it. If I want to curse, I will curse. If sexual sin or other kinds of immorality feel good, I want to experience them.” When the serpent offered you the opportunity to know by experience not just good, but evil, you, like Adam, said “yes.” So you aren’t being condemned for something Adam did and you didn’t. You’re under God’s sentence of wrath because as Adam did—as all humanity did like sheep going astray—so also you did, turning like everyone else, to your own way. Sin didn’t just infect humanity as a whole; it infected you, personally. You are a sinner. You have lived in rebellion against the One who made you and has an uncontested right to your perfect obedience. And if you were to remain in that state until you die, it would result in eternal punishment in hell.
That’s unspeakably bad news. To learn that the judge has already found you guilty before this life even ends and you see Him in court. What can be done about it? What can you do to make it up to God? What can you say or do that will get your sins forgiven so that when you stand before Him it won’t be a day of terror like none other?
That’s even worse than the first bad news. There is truly nothing you can do to solve your problem. No good works, no promises or commitments, no sacrifices or gifts, no amount of religious efforts, and no rituals or traditions you can observe have any chance to save you. You are “without hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12) You can’t turn from your sins, give your life to God, make a commitment to Him, or decide to do better. It’s already too late for you to change your behavior or attitude and make things right with God. Even if you really want to change, it’s already too late. You’ve already sinned, and already stand under condemnation as a child of Adam.
But there is hope. Because God has some very good news for you, too: “For God so loved the whole world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes on Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Jesus, the eternal Son of God Who always was, and Who created us, at one point in time became a man, without ceasing to be God. As a man, He lived a perfect life in your place. He obeyed all of God’s law and fulfilled all of God’s righteousness in your place, on your behalf. He earned what you couldn’t earn: eternal life. And He earned it for you. The last part of the Isaiah verse above explains how: “and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity (guilt) of us all.”
After a sinless life, Jesus died on the cross in your place and mine. God the Father took your guilt and mine and placed it on His Son. So that just as He lived a perfect life in your place, He died as a perfect sacrifice in your place. He “lay down His life for the sheep.” He absorbed all of the righteous punishment of God for your sins in your place. So all of your sin and guilt have already been punished. And they were punished completely. God proved this by raising His Son from the dead on the third day. If He had been anything less than completely satisfied with Christ’s sacrifice to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world, then Jesus would still be dead. He rose from the dead because the work of pleasing God on our behalf had been completely accomplished. This finished work of Christ on your behalf earned eternal life for you. And Christ is still alive today, ready to save forever everyone who “believes on Him,” as John 3:16 promises. “I have come that they might have life,” Jesus said in John 10. And you can receive that eternal life from Him right now. It is a gift. You could never earn it, but you will never be asked to. What He wants is for you to receive it as a gift. And you receive the gift by simply believing His promise. “To as many as received Him, who believed on His Name, He gave the right to become children of God,” is the assurance of that we find in John 1.
The instant you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for His promise of eternal life, He forgives your sins, makes you a child of God, guarantees heaven as your destiny, and places His Holy Spirit within you as a permanent resident Who unconditionally promises, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) That moment you are born again of the spirit, born from above, and become a citizen of heaven. You are saved immediately, completely, absolutely, totally, and permanently, always and forever. No matter what you do or don’t do, from this moment on, you are His, and He is yours. You have life. Because Christ died for you personally and rose again. And now, with the apostle Paul, you can exclaim, “I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20b)
That news isn’t just good. It’s wonderful. It’s cause for ecstasy.
You are no longer a lost sheep. You have found the way home. You entered the fold by faith, through its only door, the Lord Jesus Christ, and you have been saved. Now, for however long you remain in this world, you “will go in and out and find safe pasture.” You’ll spend some of your time in the fold, in the presence of God and His people in the church, enjoying life with them and celebrating Jesus. And some of your time, you will go out into the world at large, enjoying His protection and provision as your Shepherd, while you walk in the world among those who are still lost sheep. If you listen to His voice and follow Him, He will enable you to be a witness to other lost sheep, and some will find their way to the Door because of your directions. Whatever happens now, you are secure in your eternal life and eternal relationship with a wonderful Savior. Yes, that is good news indeed!
Here is the audio recording of this morning’s message “What we have in Christ,” a preaching of Romans 5:1-10 that I did this morning at Mt. Olivet Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Hope it blesses you to hear it.
Here is an audio recording of the message I preached this morning at Glasgow Bible Church in Kentucky, entitled “Let this cup pass from you.”