Dear Friends,

Some commentators say that this entire chapter takes place during the Feast of Dedication (or Hanukkah – a Hebrew word meaning “dedication”) even though the Feast is not mentioned until verse 22. This Feast celebrated the cleansing and dedication (sanctification – set apart) of the temple in 165 B.C. after it had been desecrated by Greek soldiers under Antiochus Epiphanes as they put the blood of pigs on the temple altar. Also many of the Jews themselves had compromised and adopted numerous Greek cultural and religious habits and thus many false shepherds (Jewish priests and leaders) were leading the people astray. Part of the Feast included reading Ezekiel 34 where God speaks so strongly against false shepherds. "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. " ‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD : As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD : This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them. (Ezek.. 34:2-10)

In this context, Jesus declares Himself to be “the good (noble, trustworthy, committed) Shepherd” and explains what a good shepherd does for his sheep; guides them (leads versus drives them) as he calls them by name (knows them intimately), provides pasture for food and water, protects the sheep even at the risk of losing his life and gathers them in, always looking for the lost and those outside the fold of his care. In contrast false shepherds (which He calls thieves, robbers, hired hands and strangers) run when they see danger, steal and kill the sheep for their own needs and basically use the sheep (God’s people) versus serve them. He is surely referring to the Pharisees in this verse (v.10) and not just the false shepherds in the Old Testament. Dan Brown, author of the book and now a movie, The Da Vinci Code, claims to be a Christian. Ponder Hebrews 13:7-8. Leaders who are worthy to be followed, follow the Leader – Jesus Christ of the Bible.

Yet, the abundant life of green pastures and fresh water that Jesus promises (v.10) is not what we as American Christians often think it is – health, wealth and a no-hassle life. This full or abundant life (Zoë) is the life Jesus promises to all his children, even the poorest of the poor. It is a life filled with the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23) It is an inner life of abundance that overflows the goodness of God to others. As Paul reminds Timothy: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” and a great witness. (See 1 Tim. 6:6)

We as believers are called “sheep” – needy, defenseless, prone to wander and stubborn. And the wolf loves the lone sheep as they are an easy target. So stay close to the Shepherd, learn His voice (v. 4-5) and stay in the flock (Christian fellowship).

In the Old Testament God repeatedly reveals Himself as Israel’s Shepherd. (See Gen. 49:24; Ps. 23; 78:52-53; 80:1) Note especially Isaiah 40:10-11: “See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” So Jesus is again alluding to His deity as He calls Himself the good shepherd. He talks about the intimacy He has with His Father and how much the Father loves Him and how He wants his people (sheep) to know the same intimacy that He has with the Father even as sons of God and the bride of Christ. But we know from other passages that intimacy with the Lord is based on obedience to the Lord: “The person who has My commands and keeps them is the one who [really] loves Me; and whoever [really] loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I [too] will love him and will show (reveal, manifest) Myself to him. [I will let Myself be clearly seen by him and make Myself real to him.] Jesus answered, If a person [really] loves Me, he will keep My word [obey My teaching]; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home (abode, special dwelling place) with him.” (John 14: 21, 23 – Amp.)As believers, God’s love and forgiveness is unconditional based on the atoning work of Jesus but intimacy or oneness with Him is based on our heartfelt obedience to Him. “It is in the context of a committed relationship (time, transparency and obedience) that Jesus promises to reveal Himself to us. Jesus refuses casual intimacy. He is not indiscriminately intimate.” (Ken Gire – The Windows of the Soul)

He speaks of His authority to lay down His life “no one takes it from Me” and “take it up again” – His resurrection and ascension. Again the people are divided over Jesus’ strong claims and some call Him demon-possessed and others say that no demon-possessed man could do what Jesus did – open the eyes of the blind as they had just witnessed. (See John 9) Jesus’ claim as God incarnate and the only way to salvation still divides people today. He divides history (B.C. and A.D.) family and friends (Matthew 10:34-37) and our eternal destiny, heaven or hell. There is no middle ground with Jesus Christ.

Once again we see the mystery of God’s electing – “My Father who has given them (true believers) to Me” (v. 29) and yet man’s responsibility to believe in Jesus. Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (vv. 37-38) Also we see a strong statement of the doctrine of eternal security. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:38-39) So we rejoice in God our Savior for we are heaven bound.

This is His last public discourse before He returns in the spring to be crucified so He clearly states Who He is: “I am the Son of God.” (v. 36 – NASB) Again many of the people wanted to stone Him “but He escaped their grasp.”(v. 39) Jesus then returns to where He first began His ministry – across the Jordan river where John baptized Him. And though many of the religious leaders rejected Him and tried to stone Him there in Jerusalem, many people traveled a long distance, sought Him out and came to Him and believed in Him.(v. 42) He still promises that those who seek Him with all their heart will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:13) And this great Shepherd of the sheep humbled Himself and became the Lamb of God slain for us that we might become sons of God for all eternity. And God’s Word assures us that if we follow the Lord as our Shepherd, we will not lack any good thing. (Psalm 23)

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

Questions for reflection/application:

A George Barna survey asked high school students where they turn first in times of tension, confusion or crisis. Their answers were shocking: # 25 on the list was their father; # 11 on the list was their mother; music and personal friends topped the list. In other words false shepherds (secular music) or immature shepherds at best (young friends).Where or who do you turn to in times of tension, confusion or crisis.? How do you know they are trustworthy?
Ponder Hebrews 13:7-8.

How does the analogy of being a sheep in a dangerous land filled with predators relate to your day to day life in this wilderness we call the world?
Does it make you want to stay close to the Shepherd and His flock (Christian fellowship)?

How can we learn to hear the voice of Jesus over all the voices that compete for our attention? (See John 10:4, 5, 27) Recall a time where He spoke to you and guided you or provided for you or protected you or revealed His love to you.

That we would see Jesus,
Len and Kristen

Recommended reading: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller

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