Weekly Meditation: 17th April 2016
We are so familiar with the story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd that there is a danger that we will miss the deeper implications. I remember a picture on the wall at my Sunday school, showing a blond, blue-eyed Jesus with a complexion that any girl might envy. He had a droopy look on his face, and under one arm he carried a droopy-looking lamb. It gave a very false impression both of Jesus, and of the role of a shepherd. A shepherd in first century Palestine had to be a robust character, capable of tackling wild beasts and facing harsh weather. He had to be dedicated too; the story Jesus told of the shepherd who sought long and hard for a lost animal was taken from real life. Shepherds were accountable for the sheep they cared for; lost members of the flock had to be found even if this involved staying out late on the hills. When Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd (John 10: 14) he was taking on a role that demanded sacrifice.
In a confrontation with the Jews, Jesus charged them with unbelief – even in the face of the miracles he performed – and he told them that they were not his sheep (10:26). Crowds followed Jesus like flocks of sheep, but only those individuals with hearts and minds to truly listen to him, and believe, proved themselves to be his sheep.
To them Jesus promised “eternal life” and assured them that no one could “snatch them out of [his] hand” (10:28). Going further, Jesus stated that nor could anyone snatch them out of the Father’s hand (10:29). That is an amazing claim. In this world we are used to things costing us; we are used to nothing lasting, to nothing having a cast-iron guarantee. But here Jesus is promising that for his sheep, their safety is assured; nothing can harm them; they can never lose their salvation. We have a wonderful shepherd whom we can completely trust, because he and the Father “are one” (10:29).
In Revelation, those who are saved are described as a “great multitude that non-one could count” (7:9. They are like a huge flock of sheep, and indeed the passage goes on to state that their shepherd will “lead them to springs of living water” (7:17). This “great multitude” is from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (7:9) and they are assured that they will never again hunger or thirst nor suffer the exhaustion of a parched land (7:16). It is very much the language of shepherding; when King David – who himself had once cared for sheep – sang of the Lord as his shepherd, he used very similar imagery of “quiet waters”, safety from dangers, and abundant food (Psalm 23:1-2, 4-5). He longed for the time when he would “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (23:6). For the great flock of Revelation, that is a reality; they are “before the throne of God … and [he] will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (7:15, 17). In this passage, Jesus is both the Lamb (the sacrificial one who takes away the sin of the world – 7:14; John 1:29) and the Shepherd who guides his sheep to eternal safety.
By Susan Thorne