In this increasingly unstable world of ours, and growing darkness, let us be mindful of Jesus’ words that are both a promise and a warning. He warned that “the thief cometh…” He is referring to what one has called the “cosmic thief,” the Devil. This thief is intent on one thing, which he loves to do under cover of darkness. “The thief cometh not but for to steal and to kill and to destroy…” The thing we must get hold of here is that it’s His own flock that Jesus is warning; it’s these that the thief has his malicious eye on. But in the same breath Jesus now adds, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). This is his precious promise, and it becomes the heritage of those who hear the voice of their Shepherd and follow Him as He goes out before them. This is their part; it is His part to lead them into His green pastures of abundant life, and protect them there. No lion or bear or thief can touch them when they do their part, and when He does His part. Let us do our part, then. Let us never for a moment stray from the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls! I’m not saying we should have no interest in what’s going on out there in the world. I’m saying let nothing tempt us to distance ourselves from the protection of our Shepherd’s loving presence. I say presence because it is in Himself that the abundant life is found. “I am come that they might have life…” Let nothing in this world, then, nothing great or small, seduce us to breach even for a moment the life-link with our loving Shepherd in the high pastures of Israel—our spiritual heritage in Christ Jesus. If we do we have set ourselves up not for provision and protection but for robbery and destruction.
With this in mind, I hope to open more fully to our understanding what the abundant life in Christ is like so that this becomes our one desire—and our determination that nothing shall move us from it. Let’s read a verse of Scripture:
And this is the promise that He has promised us—the land of Canaan. (I Jn. 2:25 NKJV)
“Wait a minute,” I hear you protesting, “that’s not what it says.”
I’m glad to see you know your Bible, we’re off to a good start. Actually it reads:
And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.
But do you see where I’m coming from? Canaan was the earthly land of promise that God promised Israel of old. He gave the promise initially to Abraham, and faithfully brought the descendants of Abraham into that abundant land after first enjoining upon them the Sinai Covenant. This was all a type of what was to come. It is eternal life that He promises the New Covenant people of God. That is to say, life in Christ. “…God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 Jn. 5:11). This is the New Covenant “land”—the Son of God Himself, a “land” characterized by eternal life.
Eternal life? We have shortchanged ourselves if we think of eternal life solely as life without end. Certainly it is life without end, but it’s far more than that, it’s far more than something we enter into once we have died and gone to Heaven. Eternal life is a heavenly heritage we begin to enter into while yet on earth. But obviously it’s far more than an earthly plot of ground. Yet eternal life is like the earthly land of Canaan inasmuch as reality is portrayed in a picture book. That’s how I like to describe the Old Testament part of our Bible. It’s a picture book given to children prior to the New Covenant reality that has now come. Of course those accounts in the Old Testament are not fairy tales, they are not fiction; they are true accounts of people on terra firma. But they were prophetic of a spiritual reality to come.
What does eternal life look like?
So, what does the Picture Book have to say about the promise of eternal life? What is eternal life like? Here from the Picture Book are some descriptions of eternal life:
And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not,
And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not,
Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. (Dt. 6:10-12)
In other words, the provision of the land was not the result of their own work. It was wonderfully all there already in the land. Here’s another:
For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;
A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey;
A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass. (Dt. 8:7-9)
Again, we see that the land was a prepared land; in it the people of God would lack nothing, there was abundant provision for every need. Joshua confirmed the same at the end of his life:
And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat. (Josh 24:13 KJV)
And so the people entered into the land of their inheritance only to find it just as they had been told. The provision of every need was ready at hand. In fact God called this land “the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you” (Dt. 12:9 NKJV). None of this would involve their own works. Even the warfare they accomplished in this land was the result of the Lord—and Joshua (their Jesus)—going before them. “The LORD thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the LORD hath said” (Dt. 31:3).
Even so, eternal life is the prepared life, the very life of Christ, the ever-present salvation and provision for our every need. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). It is the kind of life and salvation in which our walk is a prepared walk, our works prepared before us. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before prepared that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). We are new creations in Christ and we walk by the rule of new creation life—steps that are prepared before us. “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).
It is all that He Himself might be glorified in our lives.
The Bishop of the land
That heading might throw you; I know what the word bishop brings to mind. But bear with me. Let’s read a longer passage. I love this one:
But your eyes have seen all the great acts of the LORD which he did.
Therefore shall ye keep all the commandments which I command you this day, that ye may be strong, and go in and possess the land, whither ye go to possess it;
And that ye may prolong your days in the land, which the LORD sware unto your fathers to give unto them and to their seed, a land that floweth with milk and honey.
For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs:
But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven:
A land which the LORD thy God careth for: the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.
And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul,
That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.
And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. (Dt. 11:7-15 KJV)
That’s what their earthly inheritance was like. And this is what the heavenly heritage of eternal life is like. It is a land, a life, “which the Lord thy God careth for…” What do you mean, Lord? I mean this: “…The eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year…”
Careth is the Hebrew darash, which more literally would be seeketh after, or searcheth. I’d really like us to get the sense of this, so let’s look at some other versions:
…A land which Jehovah thy God is searching; continually are the eyes of Jehovah thy God upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the latter end of the year. (DT 11:12 YLT)
…A land about which the LORD your God is continually concerned, because the eyes of the LORD rest continually on it throughout the entire year. (ISV)
…A land the LORD your God looks after. He is constantly attentive to it from the beginning to the end of the year. (NET)
Do we get the picture? Let’s string those together. His eyes are continually upon this land, He is continually concerned about it, He is constantly attentive to it in order to look after and take care of this land moment by moment.
Here’s another—this one from Brenton’s English translation of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament:
…A land which the Lord thy God surveys continually, the eyes of the Lord thy God are upon it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
The Septuagint Greek for surveys is episkopeo, which the Apostolic Bible Polyglot (a translation that codifies the Greek Septuagint with Strong’s numbers) actually renders oversees. “A land which the Lord thy God oversees continually.” What a thought! Eternal life is a land, a domain, that God continually oversees. Strong’s defines episkopeo as “to look diligently, take the oversight.” From this we have our English word bishop—overseer, one who sees over, one who watches over the flock with a view to its care and protection. “For ye were as sheep going astray,” says Peter, “but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Pt. 2:25). Or as the New King James Version has it, “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” He cares deeply for the welfare and wellbeing of our souls, our lives, therefore continually watches over us day and night, mindful of the very best for us in the pastures of eternal life, just as He did the land for which He cared, His eyes searching it attentively with a view to giving it His loving care and attention.
“…For the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.”
This, beloved, is what eternal life, life in Christ, is like. It is like “…a land of milk and honey… a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven: A land which the LORD thy God careth for: the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.” That description from the Picture Book gives us through a glass darkly an insight into eternal life. It is life which is life indeed in the “land” of our inheritance. “Life, and that more abundantly.” Life in Christ. Eternal life. God is overseeing this land, the heavenly Canaan, to do it good that He may do us good. He keeps its care in His own hands. Gone are the days in Egypt when we watered our plots with an irrigation system entirely in our own control. Not so now. Not in this land. This land is the Rest of God; the days of toil to bring forth our bread by the sweat of our brow are over. This our new land is watered with the rain of Heaven, of which God alone is in control.
Did I hear you catch your breath just here? You mean leaving this entirely to Him? Yes, it means absolute and utter dependence upon Him alone. If that seems risky it’s only because we don’t know Him very well. Once we know and believe the love that God has for us, who would have it any other way? For we come to see that it is a God of lovingkindness and faithfulness who promises this kind of life and rest, life eternal, upon our entering into and abiding in His “land” in total dependence upon Him. Only in His “land” is this kind of life, eternal life, to be found. Upon putting our trust entirely in Him we bid goodbye forever to our unrest, to our doubts and fears. We cease from our own works and labours and strivings and the world with all its cares. Our lot is now to rest entirely in Him and simply obey His leadings, His commandments, thereby enjoying the life of abundant fruitfulness and total victory over every enemy.
This is just what 19th century Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith had to say upon what she called her “entrance into this life.”
I have found it to be more and more true, every day of my life, that Christ is a complete and ever-present Savior, and that if I but commit all my interests to Him, I have, as a dear child once said, nothing to do now but “just to mind.” To say “Thy will be done” seems to me, more and more, the sweetest song of the soul. The deepest longings of my whole being are met and satisfied in God. He is enough! Believing, resting, abiding, obeying—these are my part. He does all the rest. What heights and depths of love, what infinite tenderness of care, what wise lovingkindness of discipline, what grandeur of keeping, what wonders of revealing, what strength in weakness, what comfort in sorrow, what light in darkness, what easing of burdens I have found, what a Savior, no words can tell!
Hannah Whitall Smith, 1887
That is beautiful, is it not? This is a description of eternal life, the prepared life in Christ, wherein our Saviour’s part is to do the saving; our part is simply to mind Him with ready obedience, and even for this He provides the needed grace. Who can but love Him with all the heart and soul and mind and strength?