Life has its anxious and fearful moments. When they occur, we sometimes find ourselves wondering what will happen if . . . ? For example, a child moving into a new town wonders if she’ll make new friends. A high school graduate wonders if he’ll make the grades in college, and if he will find a job in his chosen career. An employee worries about losing his job when the corporation down-sizes. A patient in the hospital wonders if she will get better. The wife of an American soldier stationed in Iraq is anxious about his safety. Life can make us feel insecure, alone, and afraid. However, our Lord has a good word for us concerning these moments.
In today’s text, some skeptics in Jerusalem were questioning Jesus about his identity. He had earlier announced that he was the Good Shepherd. Now they wanted to know whether he was the Promised One for whom they had been waiting. He said to them, “I told you through my own works, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” Then he described the life promised to the sheep who belong to him.
First, Jesus points out that he knows his sheep; they are not just another name in the book. Jesus knows each sheep in his flock.
Jesus, at another time, told a parable about a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. At the end of the day one of them turned up missing, so he dropped everything and went looking for that one sheep. When he found it, he threw it up on his shoulders, carried it home, and had a great party.
Another time Jesus said, “You are of more value than many sparrows. Even the hairs on your head are numbered.” Jesus pointed out that he cares about each of us. He knows us and wants to have a personal relationship with us. I heard someone say once that if Jesus had a wallet, your picture would be in it. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we have a great high priest in Jesus who sympathizes with us because he has been there; he has gone through the things through which we go. We can turn to him confidently and call upon his name assured that he knows us and what we are going through.
However, the statement that I am most taken with in this passage is where Jesus says, “And no one can snatch them out of my hand.” I love that picture of Christ holding us in the palm of his hand. I would like to take a closer look at that hand for a few moments. What does it look like?
First,that hand has a hole in it. It is a nail-pierced hand and it communicates the depth of his love for us. That Good Shepherd laid down his life for you and me. The hole in his hand reminds us that he loves us and he wants to have a relationship with us. He went to great lengths to make us his own. He went to the cross as a payment for our sins so that we might be forgiven and become children of God. That kind of love tells me there are no boundaries or limits to the love Christ has for me.
Second, that hand is a big hand. When I think of that big hand of Christ, it reminds me of my grandfather’s hands. He was one of the most generous people I have ever known. He was always handing me things. For instance, when I was a senior in college, my grandpa’s hand pushed a set of keys across the kitchen table to me, and he said, “Steve, you are a senior in college; you need a car. I want you to have mine.”
Christ’s hand has pushed a wonderful gift to you and me Ð something far more valuable than anything the world has to offer. Listen to his words: “I give my sheep eternal life, and they will never perish.” He made good on that promise when he died for our sins and rose again from the dead on that first Easter morning. He promises those of us who trust in him, “Because I live, you shall live also.” I love that passage where Jesus says to his frightened disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare that place for you, I will come again and take you to myself that where I am, you may be also. And you know the way I am going.”
When Thomas, one of the disciples, said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:1-6). That hand is a big hand offering us a big gift Ð eternal life with our Father in heaven.
Finally, that hand is a strong hand. We hear Jesus say, “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” No matter what happens to me in this life, Jesus holds on. When I am sick, he is holding onto me. When I am facing adversity, Jesus holds on. As I face death, Jesus still holds on. The grave may come my way, and you can be certain that it will, but for those of us who trust in Jesus Christ, it is simply a graduation time. A place is prepared for us in our Father’s heaven, and nothing can snatch us away from the loving hand of Jesus Christ, not even death.
Helmut Thieliche, a German theologian, wrote in one of his books about a sailor writing to his relatives, “If you should hear that our cruiser has been sunk and there are no survivors, do not cry for me. The sea in which my body sinks in is only a puddle in the hollow of my Savior’s hand. Nothing can snatch me from that hand.”
What a gift! Paul explains in Romans 8, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord” (vs. 38-39).
This past month I have conducted four funeral services in my church, and I am currently keeping vigil with two other dear families whose loved ones are gravely ill. What a relief and a joy to come alongside them and remember the story of the risen Jesus Christ Ð our Good Shepherd Ð who promises his sheep eternal life, and that not even death can separate us from his love.
In January 2000 leaders of Charlotte, North Carolina invited their favorite son, Billy Graham, to a luncheon. Billy initially hesitated to accept the invitation because he struggles with Parkinson’s disease. But the Charlotte leaders said, “We don’t expect a major address, Dr. Graham. Just come and let us honor you.” So he agreed.
After they said wonderful things about him, Dr. Graham stepped to the podium, looked at the crowd and said, “I am reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist, who TIME magazine is honoring this month as the man of the century. It seems that Einstein was once traveling to Princeton on a train when a conductor came down the aisle punching the tickets of each passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket, but he could not find his ticket. So he reached in his other pocket. It was not there. He looked in his briefcase and in the seat by him, and he still could not find it. The conductor said, “Dr. Einstein, I know who you are, we all know who you are. I am sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.” Dr. Einstein nodded appreciatively.
The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking for his ticket. The conductor rushed back and said, “Dr. Einstein, don’t worry. I know who you are. No problem, you don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.”
Einstein looked at him and said, “Young man, I too know who I am. What I don’t know is where I am going.”
Billy Graham continued, “You see the suit I am wearing? It is a brand new suit. My family is telling me that I’ve gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion. You know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I’ll be buried. But when you hear I am dead, I don’t want you to immediately remember this suit I am wearing. Instead, I want you to remember that I not only know who I am, I also know where I am going.”
Dr. Graham knows the Good Shepherd and is claiming the promise Ð Nothing will snatch him from the hand of Jesus Christ.
I heard it said once that sheep spend the summer in the high country. On their way back to the shepherd’s fold, they eagerly anticipate their homecoming, although they have to go through difficult terrain and storms that make them cold and wet. You can sense in the flock an excitement and enthusiasm as they come nearer and nearer to the shepherd’s fold. The same goes for Christians in the flock of Jesus Christ who know that we will dwell forever in the house of the Lord.
Yes, life does have its question marks and scary moments that can cause us anxiety and make us feel insecure. However, we have a wonderful Shepherd who laid down his life for you, rose again, and lives to walk with you. He knows you and wants to hold you close in all circumstances. He promises that no one and nothing will snatch you from his nail-pierced, loving, strong hands.