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.
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