118. I am a sheep.

[John 10]

Do you know about sheep? They are peculiar animals; very different from cattle. Since the earliest times the Hebrews were sheep farmers. When Jacob and his family moved to Egypt in the famine and Joseph was second in command of all the land of Egypt, they received land away from the Egyptians and their cattle.

And the men are shepherds, for their occupation has been to feed livestock; and they have brought their flocks, their herds, and all that they have…. that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”(Genesis 46:32-34)

Jacob’s family lived in the land of Goshen, a very fertile land in the eastern part of the Nile delta.

The Egyptians were mostly cattle farmers. They looked down on sheep farmers. Sheep feed on the whole grass plant and pull it out root and all. The shepherds often moved their sheep to a variety of pastures. Agricultural researchers recommend grazing the picky grazers like horses and cattle first and following with the less picky grazers sheep orgoats. Cattle typically tear off large mouthfulsof forage.

Sheep usually follow the rest of the flock. They are notorious to follow each other into danger. The shepherd sometimes trains one of them to follow him and knows the rest will follow.

Here in John 10 Jesus talks about the lost sheep of Israel for whom He came. Thereafter His ministry was opened up to include everybody.

The disciples had to go out to Israel first (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:24).

Jesus was known to reach out to the Gentiles:

  • He healed the servant of the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:10)
  • He spoke to the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:40)
  • He said that the descent from Abraham was no guarantee into the Kingdom (John 8:39)
  • He healed a Samaritan leper who turned around to say thank you (Luke 17:18-19)
  • He told the story of the Samaritan traveler who showed mercy (Luke 10:37)
  • He welcomed many people from all directions (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:29)
  • He commanded his disciples to go out to all nations (Matthew 28:19)
  • He is the light of the world (John 8:12)
  • He loved the world (John 3:16)

In Jesus the world can be one and all nations like brothers.

Unity is only possible when we know His voice and follow His voice.

We go out to teach others to know His voice so that they can follow Him. We do not teach church doctrine. We teach people to listen for His voice.

The church of Jesus is the flock. It is that invisible body of people in this world whose hearts are set on Him and His teachings. It has nothing to do with organized religion. We are the Kingdom of God on earth. We are united by choice not by chance.

The passage in John 10:17-18 tells us so much about Jesus.

He lives in full obedience, even unto death. Sonship to Him was nothing but obedience in the highest sense possible.

Jesus views the Cross as the path to glory. He never doubted His death, but also never doubted His resurrection. He had full confidence in God. He has not missed His destiny, as He was willing to pay the price. There is no easy way to greatness.

His death was not a condemnation by the people. He could have called heavens hosts as His defense. He was accepting death fully  (John 19:10-11). He was never a victim to His circumstances. He chose the Cross. He did not lose His life, He gave it.

In the next passage we see that the dilemma of the people is as real today as it was at that time. Is Jesus a madman or the Son of God? There is no escape from the choice. Jesus spoke about God in a way that could not be ignored.

He is not a madman.  His teaching is the only hope for this world.

His deeds are to bring comfort and restore brokennessfor others – a madman would not open the eyes of the blind.

The effect He had on people saved millions upon millions of lives. He makes the bad good. He makes the foolish wise and the destitute hopeful.

The Festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem is sometimes called the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) celebrated for eight days in December.

The origin of the Festival of the Dedication lies in one of the greatest times of ordeal and heroism in Jewish history. There was a king of Syria called Antiochus Epiphanes who reigned from 175 to 164 BC. He was a lover of all things Greek. He decided that he would eliminate the Jewish religion once and for all, and introduce Greek ways and thoughts, Greek religion and gods into Palestine. At first he tried to do so by the peaceful penetration of ideas. Some of the Jews welcomed the new ways, but most were stubbornly loyal to their ancestral faith.

In 170 BC Antiochus attacked Jerusalem. It was said that 80,000 Jews perished and thousands sold into slavery. A small fortune was stolen from the Temple treasury. It became a capital offence to possess a copy of the law, or to circumcise a child. Mothers who did circumcise their children were crucified with their children hanging round their necks. Temple chambers were turned into brothels.  Finally Antiochus took the dreadful step of turning the great altar of the burnt-offering into an altar to Olympian Zeus, and on it sacrificed a pig to the pagan gods.

It was then that Judas Maccabaeus and his brother arose to fight their epic fight for freedom. In 164 BC the struggle was finally won; and in that year the Temple was cleansed and purified. The altar was rebuilt and the robes and the utensils were replaced. It was to commemorate the purification of the Temple that the Feast of the Dedication was instituted.

It was told that when the great seven-branched candlestick was relit, only one container of unpolluted oil could be found. The vase was sealed with the ring of the High Priest. There was only oil enough in that vase to light the lamps for one single day. Miraculously it lasted for eight days, until new oil had been prepared according to the correct formula and consecrated.

In this atmosphere Jesus utters one of the seven I AM sayings: I am the Light of the world.There is no one else ever to say these words. He is the light in the darkness of political strife, emotional upheaval and the maze of uncertainty that mark life on earth.

There on the porch of the Temple of Solomon where the rabbi’s often met their students the question was put to Jesus.

Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)

It was the genuine heart’s cry of longing or a trap for Jesus to utter heresy and blasphemy. Jesus answers what He so often told them.

“I who speak to you am He.”(John 4:26)

 “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”(John 9:37)

He says clearly that His sheep will know His voice. (John 10:26,27)

Jesus promised eternal life. The physical death is just an entrance to more of the new dimension with Him. Nothing would snatch them from His hand (John 10:29-30).

Jesus trusted His father above all. He knew it didn’t matter how scattered the flock was, His Father had control and would not let anyone slip.

 …for He God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] (Hebrews 13:5-7, Amplified)

We have God-confidence. Jesus is faithful.

Jesus is God – here He says it. He also prays it in John 17:1 and 20-22.

Through love we are one with God in Jesus. Love implies obedience. Oneness is not philosophical or metaphysical. It is relationship.

[John 13:34; 15:10; 14:21, 23-24.]

This statement of Jesus that He is one with God, made the Jews very angry. They picked up stones to stone Him (10:31). Blasphemy was punished by stoning (Leviticus 24:16). Jesus argued amid the hostility. He is not afraid of the arguments in a heated atmosphere.

He does wonderful things. His deeds could only come from God.

Jesus said that He was consecrated by God for a special task. He is holy – set apart for a specific purpose. God sent Him as messenger from heaven. (Psalms 82:6, Exodus 21:1-6. Also Exodus 22:9; 22:28)

He tests the people to judge His deeds not His words. The fruit of His life speaks louder than words about Him. Deeds are beyond arguments.

Jesus was not stoned that day. His execution was planned and marked on the calendar of heaven. He needed quietness before the struggle. He had to meet with God before meeting men.

He went to the place where John baptized, where He was baptized. There He heard the voice of God strengthening Him and confirming Him. His baptism was one of the supreme experiences of His life.

Jacob went back to Bethel (Genesis 35:1-6).

The people remembered John and what He said about Jesus. Many believed when they remembered the words of John.

Jesus was even greater than John said He would be. He never disappoints. The Jews saw in Jesus the man John predicted He would be and many believed.

Many great men with great futures messed it up somehow and were a disappointment to many. Jesus is God. He comes with the full guarantee of heaven.

He can never and will never disappoint. In Him the dream comes true.

 I am a sheep – I will follow Him.

 

 

 

Advertisements

117. Compassionate custody.

[John 10]

The responsibilities of life can wear you down. That could be a reason why people become homeless. They get so overwhelmed with the basic demands of having a place to stay and food to eat, that they choose to get off the treadmill of life for a daily scavenge to take care of just one day at a time. Many charities provide for them.

Here in North America the cities are well organized and every homeless person could have a place in a shelter with food and a bed. On very cold nights, the police drive around and pick up people in the street to forcibly take them to shelters, as the risk of hypothermia is too big. If they want, they could be rehabilitated and helped back on their feet. In a few cases where bad choices got a person into drugs or debt, the authorities are eager to assist in turning a life around.

However, many are not interested in an alternative lifestyle at all. Speaking to the CEO of one of the biggest homeless care centres in our city, he said that only around 40% of the people in their care are permanently rehabilitated to pursue their life normally.

The world can be a heartless, cruel place requiring a steady income for money to pay the bills that provide services and food. Living is a constant struggle; a great effort to supply our most basic needs of food and shelter.

In John 10 Jesus steps into the precious and well-known image of a shepherd in the near Middle East. He presents Himself as the most compassionate caregiver the community at that time could imagine.

The main part of Judea was a plateau stretching from Bethel to Hebron for a distance of 55 kilometers. The ground was rough and stony, more for pastoral than agricultural application. The most familiar figure in all of the land was the shepherd. It was a hard life. He was never off duty and could never leave the flock alone. With little grazing, the sheep were bound to wander. With no protective walls they could get lost. They had to be watched constantly. On either side of the plateau, the land dipped sharply down to deserts full of wild animals and robbers. If a sheep got lost, it would loose its life.

The symbolic life of the shepherd, never resting, always ready to intervene on behalf of the sheep, was at the forefront of every mind and easily understood. They gave David the honourary title – the shepherd king.

The shepherd is a very well known picture throughout the Old Testament. (Psalms 23; 77:20; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Isaiah 40:11) The leaders of the people were described as shepherds of God’s people (Jeremiah 23:1-4).

In the New Testament Jesus is the Good Shepherd (Matthew 18:12; Luke 15:4). He has pity on His people – they are as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34). His disciples are his little flock (Luke 12:32). When He, the shepherd, is taken away to be crucified, the sheep are scattered (Mark 14:27; Matthew 26:31). He is the shepherd of the souls of men (1 Peter 2:25), and the great shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20). The leaders of the church are often depicted as the shepherds of the flock. They must feed and be responsible (1 Peter 5:2-3; Acts 20:28) Jesus commands Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:15-19).

Pastor is the Latin word for shepherd (Ephesians 4:11).

The full meaning of the concept of a shepherd, should paint a picture of God’s constant vigilance and patience towards us. It reminds us of our duty towards our fellow men, especially if we pursue ministry in the church of Jesus.

The shepherd of Palestine was a simple man with simple tools. He had a bag made of animal skin in which he carried food – bread, olives and cheese. He had a sling as a weapon against wild animals. He would also shoot in front of the nose of a straying sheep as a warning to turn back. He carried a staff – a short rod of wood with nails to defend himself and his sheep against wolves and robbers. His also carried a shepherd’s crook. He could catch a sheep by the hind leg and bring it back to the flock. At the end of the day every sheep had to pass under the shepherd’s rod to be examined for injury or illness. (Ezekiel 20:37; Leviticus 27:32).

When Proverbs 13:24 talks about disciplining children, the rod that is mentioned is the shepherd’s rod of care and love. It is the constant care for a child to set the boundaries to guide them in making the right choices and knowing right from wrong. It is the rod that brings comfort in Psalm 23:4.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

In Palestine the shepherd walked in front of the flock. Sometimes the sheep needed to be encouraged to follow. Sheep was with the shepherd for years, kept mainly for wool and not for meat. The sheep knew the shepherd’s voice and will never answer to another.

The words in John 10:7-10 are pure gold.

It is the promise of the true Shepherd. In the villages there was a sheepfold with a strong door of which the shepherd had the key. Out in the pastures there were open folds with walls to gather the sheep at night. The shepherd himself slept in the opening and the sheep could not get out except literally over his body. The shepherd himself was the door. Through Jesus we have access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18). He is the new and living way (Hebrews 10:20). God is to be known by men through Jesus. Always remember – Jesus is God in human form.

Jesus uses a Hebrew phrase to describe safety and security – to go in and out. A true leader will lead a nation in and out (Numbers 27:17). A child of God is blessed when he goes in and out (Deuteronomy 28:6) The Psalmist says God blesses his coming in and his going out (Psalm 121:8).

Those that went before are all the false Messiahs, claiming the golden age. They fought and promised. Nothing came of it. Many of these insurrectionists thought nothing of human life and would murder and steal to reach their political goals. Jesus led them to God.

Only in God can there ever be a golden age. The golden age on earth is the invisible kingdom of love in which we live as born-again believers. Jesus brings life more abundantly. The Greek phrase means to have a superabundance of something. Only life with Jesus is really life, worth the living. The shepherd is absolutely responsible for life and death, even by rescuing parts of a dead animal from the jaws of the wild beasts to prove that the sheep died this way. (Amos 3:12; Exodus 22:13)

David had to battle the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:34-36). A shepherd risked his life to look after his flock. Nothing was too much. There was also the image of the unfaithful shepherd. A real shepherd was born to the task. To the false shepherd it was a job, not a calling.

Wolves were a threat to the flock. Jesus warns his disciples (Matthew 10:16). Paul warns (Acts 20:29) Zechariah (10:7-10) marks a false shepherd when he shows no desire to gather the scattered sheep.

How do the church and the modern pastor fit into this picture of the shepherd? It is a matter of working for love rather than working for reward. A good shepherd was described by two words in Greek:

  • agathos – describes the moral quality of something
  • kalos – in the goodness there is a quality of lovely.

Jesus uses kalos. The good is the fullness of God’s goodness that can be found in the character of the good shepherd; all the love, sympathy and kindness mixed in with power and miracles.

The church is open to attack from the outside as well as the inside. The church is threatened from outside by wolves of temptation and robbers of peace, joy and love and inside from false shepherds, false doctrine and false comfort. The danger from inside is worse.

When the shepherd is strong there is effective defense but when the shepherd is false the outside enemy can destroy the flock. Jesus states here the ultimate unity of the church. Unity is only possible by hearing His voice. This is the superior principle for unity guiding every individual:

And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:16)

When people are privileged, they become exclusive. They want to protect their “right” to certain things, which they deem of value – lifestyle, religion or education. This was the sorry state of the church in the time of Jesus. They become gatekeepers as opposed to the true Jesus-followers who should be door-openers.

Imagine yourself in the care of the good shepherd. He will look after you. He will provide and shelter you. That is the promise.

The cross is the guarantee.

Read Psalm 121 as a prayer-statement to boost your trust-level.