[Therefore Jesus said again,] “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Jesus is unpacking the entire Gospel in summary fashion in this passage. We can see all the hallmark signs of it, can’t we? He talks of being sent by the Father. He talks of shepherding his people. He talks of his own authority. He even talks about laying down his own life. We as modern Christians have no trouble seeing the larger story here. But what would Jesus’ first century Jewish hearers have thought about this? What would they have heard? And what would they have done with that “other sheep” bit? Is it tangential to his larger point? Hardly.
In the first century, the Jews were awaiting their national deliverer. Ever since the exile of their ancestors by the Babylonians half a millennium before, the Jewish nation had never truly been free; they had always existed under the good will of some foreign power. But their Scriptures were steeped with promises that God would one day return in glory to set things right for Israel. Any period Jew who would claim an authority based on one of these passages of deliverance would immediately invoke this desire for deliverance from his countrymen.
By calling himself a “good shepherd” Jesus is doing just that. He is placing himself in the heart’s cry of Ezekiel, who yearned for God to “shepherd” his people once again. And that day would be a day when God’s people would rest freely and securely on God’s holy mountain. But Ezekiel, along with all the prophets, knew that if their God was who they thought he was, such deliverance could not be limited to Jews alone. For they believed that their God was not merely the God of the Jews. He was the God of the whole universe! Such deliverance then had to include a restoration of the whole created order. Such a magnificent event would surely draw the nations, who would together rest with Israel on God’s holy mountain. Otherwise, how could God’s people ever truly be free and secure?
Jesus is Israel’s national deliverer. But Jesus knows the prophetic witness concerning himself better than anyone. He knows that in delivering Israel, he will deliver the nations as well. That is why such a summary of his ministry as we see here must necessarily include a summons to the nations. The restoration of the nations with Israel as God’s one holy people is as proper to the Gospel as the Cross itself, which makes such a restoration possible.
Do we truly know that the Gospel message we offer to our neighbors includes them? Do we believe that for this Gospel to have any credibility at all, it must necessarily include them? Do we realize that such an inclusion is what truly makes this Gospel “good news” for the nations? God in Christ is a cosmic deliverer! That is the message Jesus came to offer the world. That is the message we have been tasked as the Church to share in his name to all the world. Let us then go forth with boldness, confident that our Lord’s sheep from the four corners of the world, from the four corners of even the North Shore, will heed his voice when they hear it.
Look for Part 6 of this series, entitled “Hearing for Ourselves”, soon. For the original setting of these devotionals, see my introduction to the first post in the series here.