Abundant Life Explained

Jesus says, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (10:10).

Jesus promises abundant life for those who come to Him. That sounds immensely attractive, doesn’t it? But, what exactly is abundant life?

The answer to this question is often debated. I was asked this very question by Wendall Jones on the JCN program, The Platform. At the time, I answered Wendall Jones by saying, “Christ-likeness”.

I’m not sure that I like the precision of my own answer. Becoming like Christ is the outcome of abundant life. But I don’t think I should have equated the two. It would have been more accurate for me to say that the one leads to the other.

What then is abundant life?

Some take this promise to mean that if we are obedient to Christ, He will shower us with material blessings. Some equate abundant life with having an abundance of wealth, and freedom from hardship. In theological circles, we call this “The Prosperity Gospel”. The Prosperity Gospel promises health, wealth, and prosperity in this life and the next. But is that an accurate rendering of John 10, verse 10?

I think the problem of interpretation can largely be attributed to people detaching John 10:10 from the rest of the chapter. Isolate Jesus’ declaration, and here is what you have: “I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance.

Detached from the rest of the chapter, I can begin to see how a “prosperity gospel” might emerge. However, within the context of the rest of the chapter, abundant life looks very differently. So the context is what? The context is Jesus using the metaphor of shepherding sheep to describe His relationship with us.

Jesus explicitly says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). Abundant life must be understood in relation to the metaphor of our being sheep and Jesus being the Good Shepherd.

If this is true, where else do you think we might look, in order to better understand the meaning of abundant life? If abundant life is promised within the context of the shepherd/sheep relationship, then could it be the case that the best picture of abundant life is provided within the 23rd Psalm?

Let’s take some time to examine this familiar Psalm, and I’m confident that we will find here many of the necessary ingredients of abundant living. If you asked me to provide a general answer—if you asked me to summarize abundant life based on this Psalm, I would say this: Abundant life is the abiding contentment that comes from our relationship with the Lord.

The whole Psalm is a picture of this, but the first verse says this explicitly: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” (23:1). In relationship to the Good Shepherd, we’re not in need. We have enough. We are satisfied. We are content.

As we read on in Psalm 23, what we find are the ingredients of this contentment and a more thorough description of an abundant life.

Looking at verse 2, the first ingredient of abundant life is to have a restful soul. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters, He restoreth my soul” (23:2,3).

It is my understanding that sheep do not lie down easily. Sheep tend to be too nervous and too anxious to lie down. In order for sheep to lie down they need to be free from fear, aggravation, and hunger (Boice, John, 749). This is what the Good Shepherd provides. In the company of their guardian, the sheep feel safe and at ease to lie down. The first ingredient of abundant life is to have a restful soul.

The second ingredient of abundant life is to have sufficient guidance. “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (23:3). It is a well known fact that sheep like to wander. Unfortunately, sheep tend to get into trouble when they wander. They make themselves vulnerable to predators, and sometimes they unwittingly wander away from where food and water can be found. Sheep need to be led. Sheep need a shepherd who will keep them in close proximity to water, and lead them to safe grazing areas.

It’s not hard to read ourselves into the metaphor, is it? We are, as the hymn says, “prone to wander”, and when we wander, we tend to get into difficulties. Accordingly, the second ingredient of abundant life is to have sufficient guidance.

The third ingredient of abundant life (my favourite) is to have steadfast companionship. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (23:4).

Abundant life does not mean an absence of trouble. Psalm 23 is filled with trouble—there is the valley of the shadow of death, and there are enemies. Life is not easy. Harm may befall us and those we love. This is the harsh reality that many of us know all too well. But the promise of Scripture is that the Good Shepherd will never, ever, ever, leave His sheep. In the midst of life’s most difficult trials, the Good Shepherd stays with His sheep—“Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.

I want that for each of you. When trials come your way, I want you to know the comfort and strength that comes from having a relationship with the Good Shepherd. It is an profound experience to have God at your side amid adversity. This is the 3rd ingredient of abundant life: steadfast companionship.

The fourth ingredient of abundant life is closely related to the 3rd. The 4th ingredient is to have ample provision. The Greek word for “abundance” actually has a mathematical meaning, and generally denotes a surplus. And you might know that the English word “abundance” comes from two Latin words “ab” and “undare”, which means “to rise in waves” and “to overflow” (Boice, John, 748).

Sound familiar? “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” (23:5).

Here the image transitions to that of a dinner host. And what is provided by the Lord is described in terms of a 1st class host. Nothing can deter the host from providing for His guest. No event or circumstance will compel Him to reschedule. Accordingly, the table is prepared even in the presence of enemies.

The reference to oil is also noteworthy. In ancient times oil was commonly applied to one’s head/face for its soothing qualities and its capacity to make a person feel refreshed. And the cup which is offered does not come from a stingy host. This is a cup which is overflowing. So you see, the Good Shepherd accompanies His sheep in trouble, not simply as a Comforter, but as a Provider.

The Psalm pictures the Good Shepherd as giving more than bare necessity. The Good Shepherd is marked by lavish generosity. In His presence, our “cup runneth over”. Those who engage the Good Shepherd in a relationship experience ample provision.

The fifth, and final, ingredient described in Psalm 23 is the promise of a heavenly home. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever” (23:6).

The abundant life Jesus offers affects the here and now. We can have a restful soul today. We can receive guidance from the Lord today. We can experience His steadfast companionship in life’s most challenging seasons. We can experience the generous provision of the Lord in this life.

But it is also important to bear in mind that the abundance offered by the Lord to His people is forever. Moreover, the abundance we experience in heaven will be vastly superior to the abundance we experience on earth.

I want to leave you with a description of our heavenly home from the Book of Revelation, chapter 7, verses 16 and 17. This promise applies to the sheep who answer the call of the Good Shepherd.

Never again will they hunger;
Never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
Nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Friends, you likely realize that multiple voices are calling for you. The world beckons you, with all of her temptations and responsibilities. I want to remind you that the Good Shepherd is also calling for you…and if you follow, you will experience what can best be described as abundant life.

Dirt, Spit, & The Gospel

If we’re honest, we’ll likely confess that what Jesus does to the man born blind is actually quite disgusting.

John reports that Jesus mixes some dirt with His saliva and rubs it on the blind man’s eyes (John 9:6).

Sheer curiosity makes me wonder what the blind man’s initial response to this sensation was. I don’t think we should imagine the man immediately saying, “Oh, I get it, spit and dirt on my face—you’re going to heal my blindness!”

I wonder if the man’s initial response was one of disgust. I wonder if Jesus offended him. I wonder if the man’s initial response was one of doubt and scepticism.

Whatever the man’s initial response was, it eventually gave way to obedience. Jesus instructs the man, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam” (John 9:7). The man born blind complies. John says that the man went and washed and came way seeing.

I think there is an obvious analogy to the Gospel here.

The apostle Paul explains to the Corinthians that to some people the Gospel is foolishness, and to others it is offensive.

The Gospel describes how God takes on human flesh, lives a perfect life, and yet is arrested as a criminal and is executed upon a Roman cross. The Gospel tells us that by trusting in this God-man, and in His death, we gain salvation.

To some that sounds about as plausible as healing a blind man with dirt and spit.

Some hear the Gospel and are sceptical… “This sounds too easy—this sounds too good to be true.” Some hear the Gospel and are bothered by it. They are bothered by all the talk of sin and judgment. They are bothered by the notion that salvation is only possible by trusting in the gruesome death of Jesus. But, thankfully, some hear the Gospel message and believe it and, as a result, come away seeing.

It is a huge deal for a man born blind to be able to see. So we’re likely not surprised to see this miracle become “the talk of the town”. And we’re probably not surprised to read that the religious leaders of the day wanted to investigate this miracle. The Pharisees ask the man how he had received his sight. I love the simplicity of the man’s reply: “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see” (John 9:15).

Again, this is an excellent analogy for how salvation comes:

God does something (He initiates healing / Regeneration)
We do something (We believe in the Gospel / Faith)
And then we see

The healing of a man born blind is massively significant. And yet, this healing is not the main point. This healing demonstrates the will and the power of God to heal spiritual blindness. It is fitting then that Jesus and this man meet up again in verse 35.

35  Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

The man who was healed of his physical blindness now gets healing for his spiritual blindness.

At first identification, the man born blind refers to his healer as “the man they call Jesus” (John 9:11). During their second encounter, however, the man confesses “Lord, I believe” and proceeds to worship Jesus.

Permit me to draw out one final aspect from this analogy of sight. Though the man’s sight was perfectly restored, there would have been many things he would have been incapable of identifying. The man would need help comprehending what he was now seeing. He would need someone to help him to identify landmarks and the various species of animals, insects, and birds. He could see, but the work of discovery still lay ahead.

Friends, if the Lord has healed your spiritual blindness, remember that the work of spiritual discovery remains.

Perhaps there are some who share my experience of reading the Bible before becoming a Christian and then reading it again after receiving Christ. I recall reading many passages after becoming a Christian and asking myself: “How did I not see that the first time?”

The answer: I was blind. I needed a cure for my spiritual blindness before I could see what the Bible was saying.

Now, it’s also possible that you don’t regard yourself as a seeing person, but rather you regard yourself as someone looking to learn more about Jesus and His claims. It’s possible that you are cognizant of your impaired vision and you are seeking healing. And maybe the Gospel looks like the intellectual equivalent to putting mud on your eyes….

But I want to encourage you: This is how Jesus heals. God uses humble means and a simple message to initiate healing. What is left is for us to wash the mud off of our eyes—what is left is for us to believe this Gospel.

Once we place our trust in Jesus, we will be able to confess with the man born blind, “I was blind, but now I see.” (John 9:25). And with new vision, the privilege of discovery awaits.

I don’t imagine that this healed man continued to beg for alms at the Temple gates. I don’t imagine that he went home and sat around his living room all day. I imagine this man became engrossed in discovering what he had missed seeing all of these years.

Similarly, if we are “seeing people” in the spiritual sense, we ought to be seeking to discover the beauty of Christ that we were previously missing. And so my challenge to you is to dig into the Scriptures with a view to discovering all that God is for us in Jesus.

If I were to generalize I would say to you that those who go to the Scriptures with impaired vision see religion, and those who go to the Scriptures with restored sight see a relationship.

Let’s engage in that relationship. Let’s go to Jesus. Let’s worship Him.

Fully Satisfied

Below is the sermon audio & the sermon notes of Bryn MacPhail. “Fully Satisfied”, based on John 6:25-51, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on February 6, 2011.

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Throughout the Gospels, we witness Jesus making a variety of bold claims about who He is and what He has come to do. Among these bold claims, perhaps none are more curious than this claim to be “the bread of life”.

Having recently told the Samaritan woman at the well that He is the promised Messiah (4:26), Jesus now identifies Himself with a commonly used food item—bread.

With the wide variety of carbohydrates that are available today, I confess that I do not eat very much bread anymore. I do, however, remember a time when bread was a primary component of my meals.

As a child I spent a great deal of the summer holidays with my grandparents on their fruit farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. My grandparent’s lunch table was a simple one, and I vividly remember that every meal was accompanied by a very tall stack of bread slices.

Frankly, I did not find the idea of filling up on bread slices particularly appealing, but I soon learned that if I did not eat the bread I would suffer with the afternoon work. I quickly learned that a cup of soup and a dill pickle was not sufficient to fuel an afternoon’s labour. The stack of bread slices was on the table for good reason—we needed that bread if we were to succeed in getting the work done.

My understanding is that, in the ancient world, bread was even more necessary.

In Jesus’ day, bread often constituted the entire meal. As such, people needed bread—not simply to energize their work, but they needed bread to stay alive!

This helps to explain the prominent role of bread within our biblical text. When Jesus multiplied the loaves, He was not providing a mid-day snack for a group of curious onlookers—He was providing them with their physical nourishment for the day!

This also helps us to understand why the multitudes continued following Jesus after He fed them bread.

Having had their hunger satisfied with the multiplication of the loaves the people continued across the Sea of Galilee in small boats in order to keep up with Jesus (6:24). Jesus senses their skewed motivation for following Him, and responds by challenging the multitude to pursue a better kind of bread and a superior kind of nourishment.

Jesus points the people to “the bread of God…which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world“(6:33). Jesus goes on to say: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and He who believes in Me shall never thirst“(6:35).

There is much for us to unpack here.

The first thing we can say is quite general, and perhaps obvious, but is nonetheless worth noting. By referring to Himself as “bread” Jesus is conveying to us that He is something we cannot live without.

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Born Again

Below is the sermon audio & the sermon notes of Bryn MacPhail. “What It Means To Be Born Again”, based on John 3:1-16, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on January 30, 2011.

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I don’t mean to be unkind when I say that the message of Jesus that is often presented in our day is a watered down version.

How do I know this? As I speak with people, I note that very few people today are startled by Jesus. Very few people seem bothered by Jesus.

And yet, the collective response to Jesus and His message two thousand years ago was very different.

Jesus upset a great many people when He spoke. And this was the usual response to His preaching.

On one occasion, the listening multitude attempted to throw Jesus over a cliff (Lk. 4:28-30).

On at least two occasions those who heard Jesus’ message attempted to stone him to death (Jn. 8:59; 10:31).

And, on countless occasions, the religious leaders sought to have Jesus arrested because of what He was teaching.

I can assure you, the hymn ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’ was not a Temple favourite.

As we move through the Gospel of John, I want to encourage you to seriously think through what you believe about Jesus and His message, and where these beliefs came from.

It may be the case, that we too have been worshipping a somewhat domesticated Jesus, rather than the Jesus of the Bible.

As you reacquaint yourself with the Jesus of the Bible, what you will undoubtedly notice is that the claims of Jesus do not amount to a pool of ethical counsel.

Nor could we say that Jesus’ message is that of a cheerleader, where He simply shouts to His followers, ‘keep up the good work.’

People don’t stone cheerleaders.

Teachers who encourage others to ‘keep up the good work’ are typically not in danger of being thrown off a cliff.

If we earnestly engage the Jesus of the Bible, I expect that the claims of Jesus will likely challenge both our worldview and our lifestyle to the very core.

And I submit to you that if you take these claims seriously, a response of indifference will be impossible.

One possibility is that you will be bothered by the words of Jesus—one possibility is that the Jesus of the Bible will offend you.

Another possibility (the one I’m hoping for), is that having better understood Jesus’ claim on your life, you will renew your commitment to follow Him and your affection to love Him.

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Partying With Jesus

Below is the sermon audio & the sermon notes of Bryn MacPhail. “Inviting Jesus To The Party”, based on John 2:1-11, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on January 23, 2011.

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There are so many good reasons to attend a Sunday service; there are so many noble reasons for joining a local congregation, and yet I fear that it is possible to miss, or to neglect, our main reason for coming: Jesus Christ.

I don’t think it is enough to say that our gathering is occasioned by Christ, He must be the substance of our gathering—He must be the centerpiece of everything that takes place within these walls.

The truth is, we can find other venues to make friends. We can find other venues to express our ethical values. And we can find other venues to enrich our children’s lives.

We don’t even need church in order to observe a lovely ceremony or to enjoy beautiful music. But we do need the church if we are to engage Jesus Christ according to God’s design.

What is unique about our gathering is the emphasis we place on Jesus.

And, I reckon that, where such an emphasis is lacking, we would quickly descend into being less than what God has called the church to be.

If I were to ask you this morning, ‘Do you desire St. Andrew’s Kirk to be blessed by God?’, I’d like to think that all of you would answer in the affirmative.

This should lead us to some follow-up questions: How do we access God’s blessing? Are there some things we need to do, are there some things we need to avoid, in order to experience God’s ongoing favour?

I submit to you that the answers to these questions are found in this morning’s text.

The setting is a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and Jesus was also invited, and His disciples, to the wedding (2:2).

We note, first of all that Jesus was invited to a wedding—not as the local cleric, not in any official capacity, but Jesus is invited as a guest.

The role of Jesus changes, however, when one of the worst things imaginable happens at the reception: they run out of wine!

The mother of Jesus, presumably familiar with the special abilities of her child, commissions her son to remedy the problem.

It appears in our English translation that Jesus is responding harshly to His mother, but His words are not harsh sounding in the original Greek.

This would explain why Jesus ultimately complied. Jesus was reluctant, to be sure, but He nonetheless proceeds to turn water into wine.

From this account we are able to glean three principles for our edification.

1) Invite Jesus to the party.
2) Secondly, whatever Jesus says to do, do it.
3) And thirdly, expect great blessing when the instructions of Jesus are followed.

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