Le Bon Pasteur, Acquis en 1883, Philippe de Champaigne Public domain

God's word on Sunday: We can always count on Good Shepherd

  • April 20, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 22 (Year B) Acts 4:7-12; Psalm 118; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. 

Peter had been arrested for healing a crippled man in the name of Jesus. The temple authorities demanded to know by what power he worked healing miracles. They were not satisfied that a good deed had been done, for they sensed a challenge to their power. He could hardly wait to answer! 

He relished informing them that he worked these miracles in Jesus’ name — the one whom they had crucified. God affirmed the authority, teaching and deeds of Jesus by raising Him from the dead. With a note of triumph, Peter proclaimed that even though Jesus had been rejected, He had become the cornerstone of the new spiritual temple being built by God. 

Then the trump card — there is salvation in no one else; there is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved. Peter held up Jesus as the ultimate power and authority against the hierarchy and authority of the temple. 

But this statement must be understood in the context of the first-century struggle of the tiny Jewish sect of Christ believers to establish its identity and mission. Added to that was the expectation that Jesus would return soon, and all would be swept away in a cataclysmic judgment and re-creation of the world. 

In the Old Testament, all who called on the name of the Lord at the time of God’s visitation and judgment would be saved. In the New Testament, the Lord was Jesus, the emissary of God the Father. This contextual understanding is important for this verse has often been used to deny salvation or access to God for non-Christians or even other Christians of the “wrong” type. 

There is a real danger in cherry-picking verses of this sort and using them as a weapon to persecute, belittle or exclude. Jesus Christ is certainly the supreme power and authority, but this is exercised on behalf of all humanity. The Lord looks for Christ-like attitudes and behaviour in people as a sign of readiness for God’s kingdom rather than mere membership.

John believed that people are not born children of God. This was something they became by receiving the Spirit of God. Believers could live in the conscious awareness of God’s nearness and presence as well as be empowered to continue the works of Jesus. But this is only the first step — the author was convinced that more awaits us. 

What we will ultimately become has not yet been revealed, but there is a hint: We will become more and more like God. Life in the Spirit is a life of constant change and transformation. When transformation ceases, we die spiritually.

There are good shepherds and bad shepherds. The Old Testament extolled the role of those who led Israel with integrity and fidelity to God. It also condemned those who were corrupt, faithless and self-seeking. 

In Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God even said that He would come and shepherd Israel in person, since no one else could be trusted. Jesus picked up on that theme and proclaimed Himself not only the Good Shepherd — the trustworthy one — but the fulfillment of that divine promise to shepherd the people directly. 

He contrasted two types of shepherds. The first is in it for himself and as soon as the going gets rough, he will run off and leave the flock at the mercy of the wolf. There is no love or devotion to the flock. In our own day, many have been hurt by shepherds of this variety, both political and religious. 

Jesus, on the others hand, lays down His life for the sheep, and shows great love, labour and care for those in His charge. He laid down His life long ago, but continually lays it down for the sake of humanity. 

Jesus is not content merely to guard the flock He has — He will also reach far beyond the fold, speaking into the hearts and minds of those who do not know Him. He exercises His power of life not only for Himself, but for all. 

In a time of great disillusionment, disappointment and cynicism, we can ask ourselves a question: Whom do I follow and trust — people and institutions, or the Lord Jesus? Jesus alone can be trusted. He will never let us down.