"I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10b) It’s one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. (Well, technically it’s only half a verse.) But what does it mean? I think most people would say that it means God wants us to be happy. And, along with that, God wants us to have whatever it is we need in order to be happy. But is that what it really means or is it just what we’d like to believe it means?
Preachers of what we call the prosperity gospel use this as their favorite verse. If you haven’t heard of the prosperity gospel it may be because you’ve spent your life in a church like mine, where this isn’t the sort of thing we preach about. But it’s been around for a long time. The basic idea is that God wants us to be rich. Prosperity preachers include well-known names like: Oral Roberts, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen. They’re the ones who bring in the big bucks. That’s because they’re popular, and they’re popular because they tell people what they want to hear.
But, did you know that this verse about God’s promise of abundant life only appears one time in the entire Bible? You can only find it in the tenth chapter of John’s gospel. You won’t find it anyplace else. On the other hand, what Jesus talks about repeatedly, as the way of to a meaningful life for his people, is taking up a cross, denying ourselves, and following him. The way of the cross isn’t something you hear discussed a whole lot with enormously popular preachers. Instead, they tend to hone in on the abundant life God wants for us. But the thing is, without understanding the way of the cross, any attempts at living the abundant life are futile.
We can’t take the second half John 10:10 and adopt it as a way of life without also considering the verses that surround it. In this chapter, Jesus calls himself the good shepherd. Actually, his words are, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” Although he doesn’t use the word cross here explicitly, make no mistake, he is describing the way of the cross. A bit earlier in this same chapter, he also refers to himself as the gate. He’s saying that the way to the abundant life comes by following his lead, by passing through him, the one who gives himself in love.
The abundant life is the new life Jesus offers us in the resurrection. It’s nothing we can achieve, so we don’t have to work for it. In fact, as a rule, we find it when all of our achievements have failed us. When we lose ourselves, that’s when we end up finding ourselves. That’s the way the resurrected life always works.
Jesus promises this abundant life to all his followers, his sheep. Actually, in John 10 he also says that he has sheep who don’t belong to this fold, as well. So, it’s not about who’s in and who’s out. It’s about the abundant life offered for all. It’s an authentic life lived in relationship with the God who loves us like the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. And it’s the life that follows in the way of that same shepherd. There is no abundant life apart from the meaning and purpose of life we learn from him; we find it as we give ourselves in love to others.
Sorry, Oral. Sorry, Joel. The abundant life that Jesus modeled for us didn’t end in a McMansion with a Mercedes in the five-car garage and a vacation home in Bermuda. Jesus wants more for us than that.