Our Good Shepherd

John 10 is a powerful passage and picture of the love Christ has for us. Jesus is our Shepherd, the one who cares for us, protects us, guides us. He is our Good Shepherd for he will not forsake us, no matter what. We have confidence that we will be with him always and this theme is carried on later in chapter ten as we are told that we cannot be snatched out of God’s hand.

Beyond the imagery of Christ as Good Shepherd, Jesus issues another “I AM” statement in verse nine, “I am the door.” This calls to mind the unique role that Christ has in our faith. There is one flock and one shepherd (v16). We can only enter by Christ, for those who do not enter the door are thieves and robbers (v1).

But in a way the roles of shepherd and door are closely related. This was written about fifty years ago by Eric Bishop and he relates a story he heard while while traveling in the Middle East:

In the afternoon I set out to see the sights about the village. Not far away I came to a mound of earth piled up in a large circle, like a crude rampart, and on the top of the mound all around the circle was a heap of dry thorns. As I stood wondering what this might be one of the villagers approached me. “Salaam,” I said, “please tell me what this enclosure is for.”

“Oh, that is for the sheep,” he replied. “They are brought in here for the night for safety.”

“Good,” I said, “but why have the dry thorns been piled on top of the wall?”

“That,” he replied, “is a protection against wolves. If a wolf tries to break in and attack the sheep, he will knock against the thorns, and they will make a noise, and the shepherd will wake up, and drive off the wolf.”

“That is fine,” I said, “but why does the wolf try to climb over the wall? Here is the entrance to the enclosure; it is open. There is no door to keep out the wolf; he could easily enter here.”

“Oh no,” said my guide, “you do not understand. That is where the shepherd sleeps, the shepherd is the door.

And then I understood something that had often puzzled me. It became clear to me why Jesus had in John 10 called Himself first the Door and then immediately afterwards the Shepherd. Since He is Shepherd He is also the Door.

Eric F.F. Bishop, “The Door of the Sheep – John x.7-9,” Expository Times 71 (1960): 307-309.

Truly Christ is the Good Shepherd who has laid down his life for us. Take time to contemplate that painful reality as we slowly go through passion week.

The Truth Will Set You Free

We begin this week’s reading in John with chapter eight where we hear Jesus speak these famous words:

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:31-32

How many times have we heard this phrase? Or at least how often do we hear part of it? The truth shall set you free. That’s at least what I am most familiar with.

In a time in which the meaning of truth is ever changing, it is extremely helpful for us that Jesus said these words in context. The truth that sets us free is known when we abide in his word. It isn’t truth in the abstract. It is truth that is found in Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

What sort of freedom is it that we receive? The hearers of Jesus in John 8 have the initial problem of thinking that they are not slaves nor have they ever been. They, like us, have trouble seeing the ways in which we are slaves to sin, therefore they have difficulty seeing what need they have for someone to free them, to liberate them from the bondage in which they live. Christ has no problem in shining his light on our sin, revealing to us the darkness that surrounds us. His freedom overcomes the power of sin and is a freedom we could not procure for ourselves.

Only Christ can do this work and the amazing promise of Jesus is that he can and will set us free. “If the Son sets you free you will be freed indeed.” Christ wants to move us all out of slavery and be brought into his household, no longer as slaves but as children of God. When he does this we are freed from sin and we are freed to obey Christ’s word. Seeing both sides of the freedom is key in recognizing how great a gift freedom is that is found in Christ.

Find rest in that promise as you do spend time abiding in God’s Word. May we abide in it as we read it and as we seek to live it out moment by moment.

The Story So Far, Week 1

Here we are almost at the end of our very first week, so I thought I’d take a bit of time to reflect on what we’ve gone through so far and share some of the questions that sprang up during our two reading groups from Wednesday and Thursday.

Genesis always brings up questions about some of the mysterious characters we find in its chapters. The Nephilim were brought up in both groups, and I came prepared with the conclusive response: we just don’t know. There are some theories you can easily search and find on the internet, but we can’t be certain. Sometimes we need to be accepting of mystery and recognize we may not be able to know all things in all ways. But this story is just another example in Genesis about how creation continued to break from the perfect vision God had for it in the opening chapters. Adam and Eve seek to be like God, knowing good and evil. In their pride and disobedience they sin against God and their curse affects all creation. Adam and Eve were “fruitful and multiplied,” but Cain and Abel continue in their pattern of sin. Cain was jealous of his brother and resented God’s favor, so he killed Abel. Wickedness spread over the world as God’s order was resisted and people sought to be their own Lord. The Nephilim fall in line with that, and their entry into the story comes just before the flood, in which we see that God is not detached from his creation. All these rejections of him and his purposes for creation and the way in which his perfect creation is being perverted saddens God. It says in Genesis 6 that God is grieved.

God made this world and declared it good. He intended for us to be in relationship with him, and for that relationship to be ordered properly. But we see in Genesis that our sin distorts that relationship and in fact breaks it. There are many examples of the ways in which humanity disobeys and too often seeks to take the place of God or do the work that God alone can do.

The restoration of this relationship is another work that God alone can do. We turn to John and see again that God is not detached from creation, rather God did the unbelievable. God came into this fallen, wicked world in order to save it. There is a work that he alone could do, so to complete that work Jesus Christ came to us. Jesus Christ in John is shown to be greater than all that came before him, for he alone is the one sent from God, and in fact he is God.

Another mysterious figure is Melchizedek in Genesis, and later in the book of Hebrews Jesus is compared to him. But just as when he is compared to Jacob or Abraham in John, Jesus is seen as one who is even greater when he is compared to Melchizedek . Melchizedek is a priest and king who blesses Abraham, signifying a place of honor over Abraham. But Jesus is the one priest who we now have, who is even greater still. As you read through the Old and New Testaments together you will see the way that Jesus fulfills the signs, symbols, and actions of the Old and how he always does so in a way that is greater. The old is but a shadow of the reality that is in Christ (Col 2:17). We see that exemplified as well in John 3 as Jesus compares himself with a snake lifted up by Moses that brought healing (Numbers 21:8-9), yet Jesus brings healing in a more amazing way and the life he gives is eternal.

If you’ve had more questions or have insights from this last week, I’d love to hear from you. I’m praying for you as you continue this journey. I hope week one has been a joy.

In the beginning

“In the beginning…”

This is how both of our readings for this week begin. Genesis is the account of creation, John is the account of Jesus. But these accounts are not too different. In the beginning God created heaven and earth, and Jesus Christ, the Word of God, was there for that beginning. Christ is before all beginnings, he was with God, and he is God.

John is a book that presents the case that Jesus is truly divine. That he is one with the Father. John makes his reader decide on this fact. It is unavoidable in his gospel. Do I believe Jesus? Who he says he is, where he has come from? Or don’t I? To John, this is the question the must be answered.

If we believe John’s account, that Jesus was there in the beginning and that all things have been created through him, how can we read Genesis the same way? Or for that matter, how can we interpret the Old Testament in any way that ignores Jesus? Jesus Christ is the Son of God who is eternal. There was never a time he was not.

So in the beginning of Genesis, there is God creating all things. But it is God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let that truth help inform your reading and understanding of all of God’s Word. In the beginning, as God created this world, he already had in mind that he would come and live among us. God knew, before creation, that he would come and die for us. Knowing that, knowing the pain and sacrifice that was certain, God created the heavens and the earth–and everything in it. God did so because he loves us, and he loves us at all costs.

Read John to discover that cost, the cross. Read Genesis to see the way God governs all things, even so long ago, to lead to the cross and bring humanity back to himself through that sacrifice.