Weekly Meditation - 7th May 2017

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 23

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-10

The nation of Israel had long known that God was their shepherd. David, the shepherd turned king, portrayed God as a loving, all-providing, protecting shepherd in his famous psalm (Psalm 23). When he came to earth, “Shepherd” was one of the divine titles claimed by Jesus, who came as a true shepherd, sent and equipped by God to achieve his purposes (John 10:1-10).

We are so familiar with this passage, and with the image of Jesus the good shepherd, that we can miss the details. This is not simply a description of a shepherd, leading his sheep and bringing them into the sheepfold (see 10:16). It is an image of the shepherd gathering a scattered flock or of claiming them as his own. It pictures God’s call to his people, and their individual response to his voice, and in the original context it relates to Jesus calling his 'sheep' out of Judaism.

These words of Jesus, about the shepherd and his flock, follow straight after his healing of a man born blind. The Pharisees had reacted furiously to that event, not only because the healing took place on the Sabbath, but because they felt threatened by Jesus’ authority and power (see John 9:16, 29-33), and they subsequently threw the healed man out of the synagogue (9:34).  Like a thief 'who comes only to steal and kill and destroy' (10:10), the Pharisees had no good intentions towards the people and were only seeking to justify themselves (see 9:28, 34). In the case of the blind man, he had recognised his saviour in Jesus who had healed him, while the Pharisees continued in their spiritual blindness (9:39-41). Jesus came as a true shepherd, sent and equipped by God to achieve his purposes.

This pastoral 'figure of speech'  was aimed directly at the Pharisees but they 'did not understand' (10:6). Jesus therefore changed the image slightly. In the summer, shepherds sometimes kept their flocks out-of-doors in a circular stone compound, open to the sky and with a single exit. To keep the sheep safe from dangerous wild animals, the shepherd would become the 'gate' (10:7), lying down across the doorway. In Jesus’ teaching, he not only protects his sheep in this way, but allows them to 'come in and go out to find pasture' – in other words, they have the liberty to live their lives in his presence.

That abundant life (10:10) as Christ’s flock is demonstrated in the early Church. The first flock of Christians in Jerusalem lived a life of devotion to Jesus’ teaching and to each other, eating and praying together (Acts 2:42-43). The Church became firmly established with signs and wonders being performed (2:43). The members shared their possessions freely and ministered to one another (2:44-45). Their lives centred on worship, and they 'enjoyed the favour of all the people' with their number increasing daily (2:47). God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb; the first century Christians were soon to face persecution and be scattered (Acts 8:1). However, this initial, ideal existence enabled the Church - God’s flock - to gather together closely  and to grow strong in readiness for that time of suffering and testing.

Later, Peter was to remind the Church that they were God’s flock, once strayed and now returned to their shepherd (1 Peter 2:25). Jesus had suffered before them, leaving an example for them to follow closely, as sheep follow a shepherd (2:21).  Jesus had suffered although he was blameless, just as many Christians were now suffering. Peter’s letter was a reminder of the price Jesus had paid – the insults he endured and the pain he bore – so that his flock might die to sin, live to righteousness and be healed by his wounds (2:24). It was a reminder also of the ultimate care that the Lord takes regarding his flock which will never be lost or scattered.

Susan Thorne