‘Of my own accord’: The Eager Redeemer (pt. 2)
by Tony Reinke
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17-18a)
Last time we discovered that Jesus must be more than a suitable Redeemer; He must also be a willing Redeemer. In the light of His willingness and eagerness we learn the depth of our Savior’s love.
The most common phrase of Jesus willingness to lay His life down for sinners is to say Jesus “gave Himself” for us (Gal. 1:4, 2:20; Eph. 5:2, 5:25; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14). The phrase drips of volition and purpose and of knowing exactly what He was getting Himself into. This willingness is so precious.
Today we look specifically at John 10 and the consequences of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I call this section “The Heartbeat of an Eager Shepherd.”
One striking feature of John 10 is the emphasis on the individual sheep. Listen to how personally Jesus explains the relationship between the sheep and the Shepherd. Jesus says,
“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out … A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. … If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture … For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. … My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
We cannot miss the context of Jesus’ willingness to die. He was willing to die because He personally loved each one of His sheep. When we forget about the willingness of the Shepherd to die, we think of Him as a “hired hand” who came to die by the command of another, dying an impersonal death for some faceless, nameless sheep. Never! Jesus contrasts His own heart with that of a “hired hand” who does not care individually for the sheep (John 10:11-15). “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus lived and died for His specific sheep.
Couched within the willingness of Christ to redeem sinners is the demonstration of Christ’s love towards His individual sheep. Charles Spurgeon writes, “Love delights in personal pronouns … He died for his flock, and for each one of his sheep in particular; so that we may each one say to-day, ‘He loved me, and gave himself for me’ [Gal. 2:20]; and each one know that for himself, with special intent, the Lord Jesus bore the agony and bloody sweat, the cross and passion” (sermons, vol. 35).
If you are one of His sheep, know that the Shepherd Himself willingly gave Himself for you. He knew you, loved you, died for you, suffered for you, bore your wrath, and now protects you and comforts you! Christ was eager to redeem each of His sheep. Be moved by the personal pronouns.
Christ willingly pursues us
Notice what motivates the free willingness of the Son. The Father takes pleasure in the Son’s free offering of Himself (John 10:17). This alone is worthy of much reflection. The Father finds delight in Christ for His willing offering of Himself. Amazing!
Secondly, Christ is moved to eagerness because He loves His sheep. How do we become His sheep? If I understand the context of John correctly, there is nothing you can do to be one of His sheep. This designation rests upon the free, unmerited sovereign grace of God. Jesus said, “but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock” (v. 26). Belief or unbelief are not the determining factor. The determining factor was God’s electing will in placing us in one sheepfold or another. To put it another way, my faith, my obedience, my sinful wretchedness, my love, my character, my successes, my failures do not determine or undermine Christ’s love for me. His was an unconditional love for each sinful sheep in His care.
Because Christ loves depraved sinners like us, calls each of us by name, and willingly gives Himself, we can safely conclude: The Good Shepherd pursues each of His sheep. It’s here that we see the eagerness of the Son. He was motivated to pursue me willingly and of His own freedom. He pursued me. Say that out loud … “He pursued me!”
In Luke 15 the Pharisees came to Jesus and ridiculed Him for “receiving sinners.” They were wrong. Jesus does not receive sinners, He pursues sinners. He pursues sinners like a shepherd pursues a lost sheep (vv. 4-7), like a woman pursues her lost coin (vv. 8-10), like a father runs after his lost son (vv. 11-32). With binoculars and a flashlight in hand, Jesus runs in pursuit of sinners.
Horatius Bonar writes, “in his work of saving, Christ is aggressive and compulsory. He goes out in order to find them. He is ever on the outlook. He does not merely sit above on his throne, willing to receive the applications of those who come. He comes down amongst us. He goes to and fro in the earth; He walks up and down in it. His daily, hourly work is going in quest of sinners” (Light and Truth).
The willingness of Christ reveals the deep love of Christ for you and I. Willingly, eagerly, freely, and aggressively He is in quest of sinners like me. This is grace in its purest form.
Deepest love, deepest comforts
The willing pursuit of your soul by Christ is the source of all comfort in this world. There is no dark cloud that can hide the sun of Christ’s love.
Octavius Winslow writes, “Are you wounded? Does your heart bleed? Is your soul cast down within you? Is your spirit within you desolate? Still Jesus is love, is loving, and loves you. He has suffered and died for you; and, were it necessary, He would suffer and die for you yet again. Whatever blessing He sees good to take from you, Himself He will never take. Whatever stream of creature love He sees fit to dry, His own love will never fail. Oh, can that love fail — can it cease to yearn, and sympathize, and soothe, and support, which brought Jesus from heaven to earth to endure and suffer all this for us? Be still, then, lie passive and low — drink the cup, and let the surrender of your sin, your obedience, and yourself to Him be as willing and as entire as was the surrender of Himself for you. Then shall you, in a blessed degree, be ‘able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, filled with all the fullness of God’” (Daily Walking with God).
We must grasp the willingness of Christ. In His willingness we comprehend the depth of Christ’s love. He pursues sinners. If we are of His sheepfold — found resting in His righteousness alone, saved when He found us drinking from polluted cisterns and lost on the path of destruction — there can be no life situation too dark or too hopeless.
In one of my favorite contemporary books, Instruments in the Redeemers Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change, Paul David Tripp writes, “Biblical personal ministry is more about perspective, identity, and calling than about fixing what is broken” (p. 185). To say it another way, helping others see the willingness of Christ to endure the Cross and His relentless pursuit of His sheep may be one of the most life-transforming, problem-clearing, darkness-breaking truths you will bring to a counseling situation.
Dwell frequently upon Christ’s eagerness.