Monthly Archives: February 2014

Who Do You Say That I Am?

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM? 

“‘I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to 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 authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’

“The Jews who heard these words were again divided. Many of them said, ‘He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to Him?’ But others said, ‘These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’ John 10:16-21 NIV.

The words of a demon-possessed man? Or the words of the Son of God? It was up to each individual to weigh up what He was saying and decide for themselves.

What was He saying? Other sheep? Was He insinuating that the Jews were not the only people who were the objects of His concern? That would not have sat well with them. The entire story of the early church and the work of the apostles bears testimony to the division Jesus caused because He sent His disciples to the whole world.

The Jews across Asia Minor and Europe, apart from a small minority who believed, were against them. Paul was hounded from city to city because he dared to preach to the Gentiles. It was his association with the Gentiles that almost got him lynched in Jerusalem and eventually had him sent to face Nero in Rome.

What did He mean — lay down His life for the sheep? In veiled language He was informing them that He knew exactly what they were scheming to do to Him. However, just in case they thought that they had Him in their power, He jumped the gun by letting them know that it was His choice to die, not their choice to kill Him. More than that, He would lay down His life to please the Father, and take it up again, which was something they weren’t bargaining for.

How badly the Jews had misinterpreted God’s dealing with them as a nation! At Mount Sinai He had espoused them to Him as His bride. He had chosen them to be His own, a nation of people who, by their lives set apart for God and lived in obedience to His Word, would teach the surrounding nations about the God to whom they were also accountable and to whom they were to bow.

Instead of living in obedience to God’s way, they persisted in worshipping the idol gods of their neighbours, becoming wicked like they were instead of drawing people to the one true God. God’s displeasure eventually resulted in 70 years of captivity in Babylon where they finally got the message. Instead of taking up their role as obedient children of God, they swung in the opposite direction, becoming so isolationist that they thought they were better than the Gentiles. They refused all association with non-Jews and especially with their Samaritan neighbours, despising them because they were a mixed race and practised a corrupted religion.

Now Jesus was daring to hint that His message was for them as well! This was intolerable, especially to the Pharisee faction who were so “holy” that they refused to have anything to do with “sinners” in their own race, leave alone Gentiles who were utterly abhorrent to them.

After the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit equipped the church with the anointing to take the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth, the apostles still hung around in Jerusalem until they were forced to leave because of persecution. It took a bizarre vision to convince Peter to step inside the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and to preach the good news of the kingdom of God to him. He was flabbergasted and finally convinced when the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles as He had done in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.

But this was all in the future. Jesus encouraged His hearers to believe what He said before it happened so that, when it happened, they would know that He was speaking the truth and that He was who He claimed to be.

We now have all the evidence and must reach a conclusion for ourselves. Will we reject Him because He does to live up to our expectations or will we recognise in His words and actions, and especially in His death and resurrection that He is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God?

The Heart Of A True Shepherd

THE HEART OF A TRUE SHEPHERD 

“‘The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and they know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.'” John 10:12-15 NIV.

Another indictment against the false shepherds of Israel! Once again the difference between the shepherd and the hireling is — money. The hired hand does not stake his life on the safety of the sheep. When danger threatens, he takes off to save his own skin, leaving the sheep to face the predators alone. The shepherd stands between the sheep and those who would devour them and defends them with his life.

Two men stand out in Scripture — apart from Jesus who literally gave His life for His sheep — who refused to abandon their flock but offered themselves in place of their people when unbelief and disobedience brought the judgment of God down on them.

Moses stood between the Israelites and God in the desert, pleading with God to remove his name from the book of life rather than destroy his people who had sinned grievously by worshipping a golden calf while he was up the mountain with God..

“So Moses went back to the Lord and said, ‘Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold.’ But now, please forgive their sin — but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.'” Exodus 32:31, 32 NIV.

God would not accept his sacrifice but He heard Moses’ plea for mercy and did not carry out His intention to wipe Israel out and start again with Moses. (Exodus 32:10, 14).

The other man who would willingly have given himself for his people was the Apostle Paul. “I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit — I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself was cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, these of my own race, the people of Israel.” Romans 9:1-4a NIV.

How different from the Pharisee, Saul, who willingly arrested the same people and had them tried and put to death for believing in Jesus, now putting his life on the line for the same people he once tried to destroy! What changed his heart? It was the resurrected Jesus who appeared to him and captivated his heart, turning him into a passionate shepherd of his people.

After Peter’s denial of his Master, Jesus gave him the opportunity to be restored to his former commitment and loyalty to Him on the shore of Lake Galilee. He received a commission that carried him through his life to its end on a Roman cross. “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.” He caught the vision that never left him and that he passed on to those who came after him.

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed. Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:1-3 NIV.

Peter had witnessed the fulfilment of Jesus’ words — “The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” He had been commissioned to wear his Rabbi’s yoke. It was therefore his responsibility to follow Him in everything He modelled as a faithful disciple and shepherd of His flock.

It saddens me that God’s shepherds are so quick to flee the flock and find another one elsewhere when the going gets tough. Instead of staying with the people through thick and thin and seeing them through difficult times, many pastors and ministers easily accept a “call” elsewhere, either because they are offered a better to deal or because they want to escape from difficult people.

I salute the ones who stay with the flock and are willing to lay down their lives for the sheep. They have the heart of a true shepherd.

The Good Shepherd

THE GOOD SHEPHERD 

“‘I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.'” John 10:9-11 NIV.

Such familiar words and yet how they are misunderstood! Once again it is important to read them in context.

The Jewish religious leaders had persistently rejected Jesus and refused to recognize that He was indeed their Messiah. No amount of evidence and no amount of persuasion would convince them that He was the fulfilment of Old Testament messianic prophecy. They claimed to be the true leaders of Israel and yet they placed heavy burdens of unnecessary rules on the people that they were not able to bear.

Jesus insisted that those who refused to come to the Father through Him were thieves and robbers. They did not care for the sheep; they exploited them for their own benefit. They fitted the description of the false shepherds of Ezekiel 34. They tried to gain access to God through their own “righteousness”; by obeying the many petty rules their rabbis had made up around the Law of God.

Jesus said that all those who had come before Him, who masqueraded as true shepherds, were thieves and robbers. They, and not Satan, as this passage is so commonly interpreted, are the ones who kill, steal and destroy. He was aiming His arrows at the scribes and Pharisees who persistently attacked and tried to discredit Him.

These men prided themselves on being the shepherds of Israel while, in actual fact, they were the hireling shepherds who had no love for the sheep. Instead of caring for the sheep, feeding them, lifting their burdens and seeking the lost, they lorded it over them and made life intolerably difficult their rules and requirements.

Jesus’ conflict with the merchants and money changers in the temple is a case in point. These unscrupulous men were extorting money from the worshippers by confiscating “defective” sacrificial lambs, forcing them to buy another, and selling the faulty ones to the next worshippers. They were probably there by permission of the priests who no doubt got their cut of the profits.

Unlike the leaders, Jesus had shown His people that He was their true shepherd. “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” Ezekiel 34:15-16 NIV.

David, the shepherd-king, had known the Shepherd of Israel. In his many years as a fugitive from Saul, he had lived under the care and protection of his Shepherd. Out of years of experience he wrote the 23rd Psalm. The same Shepherd who had accompanied him through years of suffering, had now come in person to show His people who the true Shepherd was.

Jesus meant His disclosure to be an indictment of those who fail to fulfil their shepherding responsibility towards His people, not to give us someone conveniently to blame for the bad things that happen in our lives. Jesus spoke strongly to those to whom He has entrusted the care of His sheep, especially in view of His anticipated return. There will be swift retribution for the ones who forget their responsibility waste their time and their Master’s resources on living for their own pleasure.

Peter got the message. “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who will also share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:1-3 NIV.

Jesus had entrusted His sheep to Peter and his fellow disciples. Now Peter passed on the baton to others. Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” Jesus, the Good Shepherd, showed us the way.