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“IF YOU LOVE ME……” (John 14:15)
6th Sunday of Easter
St. George’s Anglican Church, East Ivanhoe
8 am and 10 am 21st May, 2017.
Readings: Acts 17:22-31
1 Peter 3:8-22
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
Some of us may remember a popular song, many moons ago, of which the first line in each of the four stanzas of the song is: “If you loved me half as much as I love you….” (written by Hank Williams)
Today’s Gospel reading commences with Jesus saying: “If you love me,” (John 14:15)
Do we love God “half as much as He loves us?”
When we were children, because we loved our parents we obeyed them.
Let us reflect on Jesus’ statement……
“IF YOU LOVE ME…..”(John 14:15)
It is in this same sense that we love our Lord and obey His commands because He has demonstrated His love for you and I and everyone in the world through His death on the Cross to set us free from our sin and guilt. Our Lord said: ”No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
St. John wrote in his epistle, “We love (God) because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
“Love is what we see in the Cross.” (“Reflections”, Volume 3, p.523, Leon Morris)
Hopefully, our parents demonstrated their love for us – to us and we, therefore, loved them in return.
God demonstrated His love first for us, through Jesus on the Cross, and we love Him in return.
In the Gospel passage before us today, Jesus said: “and those who love Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love them and reveal Myself to them.” (John 14:21)
God’s very nature, His very essence, is LOVE! William Barclay says in explanation of this passage of Scripture: “Fellowship with God and the revelation of God are dependent on love; and love is dependent on obedience. The more we obey God, the more we understand Him; and the person who walks in His way inevitably walks with Him.” (The Gospel of John, The Daily Bible Study, p. 169, William Barclay)
As children, when we obeyed our parents, we felt a unity with them; there was a bond of love through our obedience to them. It is similar to this when we obey God and obey Jesus’ Commandments, we walk in unity with our Lord and there is a tangible sense that our Lord is with us – “He abides with us.”
Jesus, the Son of God challenges us, “Do we love Him?”
Let us reflect on:
“If you love Me…” said Jesus. “You will keep my commandments.” Jesus says later in the Gospel passage appointed for today: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love Me.” (John 14:21)
Well we might ask: “What are Jesus’ Commandments, remind me of them, so that I can keep them?”
You might recall that in many situations, e.g., in the armed Services, a “command” has to be abided by without question.
In the Gospel according to St. Mark, in response to the question asked by a scribe: “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered: ’The first is this, ‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the Scribe said to Him, “You are right. Teacher; you have truly said that ‘He is one, and besides Him there is no other’; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ – this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that He answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:28-34)
Jesus’ “New Commandment” is stated a little later on in this Gospel according to St. John, when He says: “This is My Commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
“If you love Me you will keep My commandments…” Jesus said. (John 14:15)
“The principle observance of commandments through the motive of love is a revolutionary advance over the Jewish approach to the Mosaic Law.” (New Bible Commentary, Third Edition, p.958)
In a nutshell, Jesus’ commandments are to love God with all our heart, mind, strength and our neighbor as we love our self and Jesus’ “new commandment,” is: “Love one another a I have loved you.”
In the beautiful little book, “Mister God This Is Anna”, the little girl, Anna, wisely encapsulates Jesus’ commandments, when she says, “And God said, love Me, love them, and love it, and don’t forget to love yourself.” (Mister God, This Is Anna,” p.31+32, Fynn)
Jesus said: “If you love Me you will keep my commandments.”
“Loving Christ and keeping His commandments are inseparable. Moreover Christ’s love for us is the basis of His self revelation to us.” (New Bible Commentary, Third Edition, p.959)
Jesus said: “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) Jesus is challenging us, personally, to move forward in our faith and trust in Him and to let go and love Him with a passion, and love one another, obeying His commandments with joy and freedom?
Let us reflect on:
So, if we love our Lord, we will keep His commandments. Jesus makes a further promise to us, saying: “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor Knows Him. You know Him, because He abides with you, and He will be in you.” (John 14:17)
At our Anglican Confirmation Service, when the Bishop lays hands on the Candidates heads, the prayer is prayed that we will receive the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for our walk of faith as Christians.
“The Advocate” is another name for the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, our Triune God whom we worship. Jesus’ promise is that those who love Him and who obey His commandments will receive the “Advocate” – the “Spirit of truth.” The “Advocate” is God, Himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit, Who will come to us to help us. He is the Spirit of Truth and will guide us into all truth and understanding about God and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
In explaining the work of the Holy Spirit, the New Bible Commentary says: “This is the first of five important statements regarding the Holy Spirit in these Discourses. The Greek word translated ‘parakletos’ includes the idea of one called in to help, but is not to be restricted to a legal advocate. The more general idea of counseling better expresses the meaning. The Counselor’s help is not intermittent, but continuous.” (New Bible commentary, Third Edition, p.959)
In the following chapter of this Gospel, 16, Jesus says: “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13) What “truth” are we humans seeking in the sense of our soul’s longing? We are seeking the “truth” about God, to know God? Jesus said in last week’s Gospel, ”I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus said: “If you love Me you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, because He abides with you, and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17)
In the last chapter of this Gospel according to St John, in one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, after Jesus and the disciples with Him had finished breakfast, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me.” (John 21:15f)
Today’s appointed Gospel reading commences with Jesus saying to us all: “If you love Me you will keep My commandments….” (John 14: 15f)
The Son of God challenges us all in His words to us in the Gospel today to: love Him and God our heavenly Father with all our hearts, minds and strength and to love our neighbor as we would love ourselves. The New Commandment being: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
As the Son of God, Jesus, challenged Peter three times, so Jesus challenges us regarding our love for Him. “Do we love Him, first and foremost in our lives?”
The Lord be with you!`
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ST. GEORGE’S ANGLICAN CHURCH, IVANHOE EAST
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
8.00 and 10 am 14th May, 2017
Psalm 31:1-5, 17+18
1 Peter 2:11-25
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
The sermon today is in the form of a first person narrative. In the first Scripture reading appointed for today from Acts, (7:55-60,) we heard that the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was persecuted and stoned to death.
I will assume the character of Stephen, in this sermon, speaking as though I were Stephen, the man of faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Stephen was so passionate about his faith in our Lord, that he was prepared to give his all, his life, in order to bring glory to God. St. Stephen has, no doubt, inspired countless lives to give their all to our Lord, counting their own lives as nothing and counting it all joy to serve God in His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Stephen says: “I, Stephen, speak these words to you to encourage you in your very own walk of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
You live in a very different time to when I was our Lord’s servant on earth. We are thousands of years apart in history and culture, but we share the “pearl of great price”, i.e., faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, our Lord and Saviour,
I heard God’s Word to my people, the Israelites, when: I worshipped in the Temple, from our “oral tradition,” from family and faith traditions and from my teachers. (Note: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nzicolaus, (Acts 6:5)”all bore Greek names, probably Hellenistic Jews from the Diaspora, “New Bible Commentary, P979))
I knew the Apostles and was utterly inspired by their lives of faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ. Every one of them, except John, died for their faith. (“More Than A Carpenter”, p.57, Josh McDowell)
You read and hear God’s Word to you in the Holy Scriptures and you have the faith witness of all the faithful Christians down through the ages, especially those whose faith did not waiver when they were faced with persecution and even death
I, Stephen, wonder what the world is like now for you? What oppression does your world need saving from? No doubt there are some aspects of your world which are in need of change. How well do your family, relatives, friends and Nation know and understand the truth that the Saviour of the world, Jesus, has already came to rescue us all from bondage of every kind and paid the price for each of our sins on the Cross?
JESUS – THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE
Let us look in depth at God’s message to you today from the Gospel of John.
Jesus said to His Disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1)
Jesus is comforting, calming down the disciple’s anxiety and fears which had risen almost to fever pitch! As the first Christian martyr, I can say to you that such comforting words from our Saviour Jesus, are that which give us the courage to continue our journey – whatever trials we encounter. In the previous chapter, 13, of this Gospel, Jesus has foretold that, a) one of the Disciples will betray Him
b) that Peter will deny Him three times and, most disturbingly for His disciples
c) that He would shortly leave them
The Disciples, who had left everything to follow Jesus were dismayed, disconcerted, alarmed, insecure – fearing their future. They didn’t understand what was about to happen. I guess, had any of us been there at that time, we, too, would have found it difficult to grasp the impact of what Jesus was saying.
You sit at a different vantage point to the disciples, they were in the midst of those world shattering events.
You see them from afar.
You know what happened.
You know what events occurred in Jesus’ life.
You know the agony our Lord suffered on the Cross to free you and us all – all humanity from the guilt of our sin.
You know the sublime ecstasy that death did not triumph over Jesus.
You know that Jesus rose victorious from the grave.
You know that this is the most profound “Good News” this world will ever know!
You know that God’s love for you expressed in the death and resurrection of our Saviour Jesus, has changed history, hopefully the history of your life as you have come to know this truth and understood it in your hearts and as you live the new transformed and resurrected life of a Christian.
I, Stephen, can verify for you, that this is what happened to me. I was hungry to find God, to know God, to know that He is real. God always takes the initiative in drawing us to faith in Him and in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. God draws us like a magnet to Him. He says in His Word: “When you search for Me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 229:13)
A vital teaching from Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, which convinced and convicted me to believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God, was that which was read here today at St. George’s.
The early Christians were called, “Followers of The Way”. In John’s Gospel chapter 14, we can hear Jesus’ reply to frustrated Thomas’ question, that they “didn’t know where Jesus was going so how could they know the way?” (John 14:5)
Jesus’ reply was ground breaking, revolutionary, unprecedented, unparalleled when He said those unforgettable words: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” (John 14:6) What Jesus said in this statement, I, Stephen, have personally found to be true. I am now living this life with the Father, with Jesus and with all the redeemed, in eternity because God reached out to my life and drew me to follow “the Way” through faith in Jesus.
JESUS – THE WAY
When Jesus said: “I am the way”, (John 14:6) He was saying that belief in Him is the only way we can connect with God in heaven. That He, Jesus, is the only connection humanity has with God. “Since Jesus is the revelation of God, there is no other way to the Father but by Jesus.” (“The New International Commentary On The New Testament – John, p.637, Leon Morris) Because Jesus is God how can there be any other way to the Father – God? When we follow Jesus, He leads the way to God, therefore He is THE WAY! Faith in Jesus is faith in God – they are one.
As I, Stephen, try to imagine the world you are living in, whatever other “religions” there are in your world – none of them lead humanity to God because Jesus says here that HE IS THE WAY! This was a shattering statement then, because in saying this, Jesus was saying that He was God – which He is, but to my people, the Jews, this was blasphemy. This fact about Jesus has not changed though the centuries have come and gone. This fact remains true to you today and will be true forever. Jesus is the only way to God – the Son of God has said this and He tells the absolute truth! Does this not elevate Jesus to the highest place possible? Jesus is God, nothing less – and He is the only way to God!
JESUS – THE TRUTH
Jesus also said; “I am the truth”. (John 14:6)
That Jesus is the “truth” reminds us of the complete reliability of Jesus in all that He says, does and is. Jesus is God. Jesus speaks the truth. Jesus’ teaching was and is the TRUTH and this pointed His hearers to God.” (Reflections on the Gospel of John, Leon Morris)
JESUS – THE LIFE
Jesus said: “I am the Life.” (John 14:6)
The only life worthy of being called “life” is that life which Jesus brings to us all as a result of our faith in Him, This is full, free, forgiven and abundant life. Ultimately, as I, Stephen, have personally experienced, “there is no eternal life apart from Christ.” (Reflections on the Gospel of John, p494, Leon Morris)
JESUS IS GOD
Jesus enlightened the disciples further, saying unambiguously: “If you know Me, you will know my Father.” (John 14:7)
In response to Philip’s request for Jesus to show the Disciples the Father, (i.e., God). Jesus declared: “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” (John 14:9)
Then Jesus extrapolates further by saying: “….if you do not believe this, then believe me because of the works themselves.” (John 14:11)
In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ “works” are the miracles or “signs” . A sign points us in a certain direction. Jesus’ miracles are “signs” which point all humanity to the absolute fact that Jesus is God (no one else could do these “works”). They are evidence that God is at ‘work” in and through Jesus because He is, indeed, God!
What Jesus said about Himself as quoted in John chapter 14 was “revolutionary”, to the Jews of Jesus’ day. It was revolutionary to their religious experience and their theological understanding. No one had ever claimed to actually be the connection between God and humanity, (“But Don’t All Religions Lead To God?”, p.43, Michael Green) as did Jesus when He said: “I am the way, and the truth and the life – no one comes to the Father but by me.” No one had actually claimed, nor have since, despite the plethora of religions which existed then or have since come into being, no other person has ever claimed to be the Son of God nor have they claimed to be the “way” through whom a person will enter heaven.
I, Stephen, came to a profound and life changing convicting knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God. That He was the long expected Messiah of my people. You all heard Him say, in the Gospel reading today: “If you know me, you will know my Father also.” (John 14:7
MY (STEPHEN’S) MARTYRDOM
Following Jesus’ ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, (Acts 2:1f) the fledgling church began to grow and to touch more and more lives with the love of God. The message that Jesus’ death on the Cross was for the sins of the whole human race was received with grateful hearts by many who believed in Him, as did I, were baptized and received the Holy Spirit and became Christians, followers of “the Way”. Our lives were totally turned around and demonstrated God’s love through the care and provision we shared with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, many people were healed as the Holy Spirit enabled us to reach out with His healing touch to others in the Name of Jesus. The apostles chose myself, Philip, and five others, laid hands on us and prayed the Holy Spirit would enable us to help with the work of caring for the needs of our community. (Acts 6:1-7)
God filled me with His wisdom and the power of the Holy Spirit enabling me to accomplish much for Him and for His glory. Those who debated with me on some of the points of my people’s faith history and “fixed” the gathering by having people stir others to be objectors to what I was saying. (Acts 6:12)
In response to the high priest’s searching question regarding Jesus, I explained our faith history starting with Moses. God emboldened me through the Holy Spirit, to speak the truth that the hierarchy of the Jews had been: “a stiff necked people and that they had forever opposed the Holy Spirit. That they had killed the prophets who had foretold the coming of the Righteous One”, (Jesus) (Acts 7:51f) t
I then accused them saying: “you have become His betrayers and murderers?” (Acts 7:52) It wont take much for you to imagine that this was too much for them. Their anger became red hot and they ground their teeth at me. (Acts 7:54)
I can only encourage you by saying that at that moment, God encouraged me by showing me His glory and I actually saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. (Acts 7:55) So profound and wonderful was this sight that I gave voice to it in front of the entire Jewish Council and others who had gathered there. This was too much for them – they were the “experts” who knew all about God, but did not know Him or obey His laws with all their hearts.
Their rage was so great that they dragged me out of the city and began to stone me to death. (Acts 7:58) As my life blood was draining away with each stone which penetrated my flesh, God gave me similar words to my Lord’s when He was on the Cross dying for my sins, yours and those of the entire world, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59, (Luke 23:46)) My strength was so sapped that I fell to my knees and gave voice to: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:58) “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” – Jesus – Luke 23:34) These were the last words from my last breath that I uttered.
You may well ask, question, ponder why I would so willingly give up my life for my faith in Jesus Christ.
I can simply say, Jesus gave His life for me so that I can have full and abundant life – greater love has no one than this.
The sacrifice of my spilt blood, has been the source of many a person coming to true faith in our Saviour,
After my earthly life was taken away from me by those who were angered by the truth about the Son of God, my garments lay at the feet of a man named Saul. You know him as Paul, whose transformed life, once he had been encountered by the Son of God, became the greatest missionary for Jesus the world has ever known. He once wrote in one of his letters: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection…” (Philippians 3:10)
I feel compelled to say to you that it should be “the burnping desire of every Christian to know God better” to know the truth about God therefore to increase in faith in Him. (“Be Transformed”, p.30, Warren Wiersbe)
As I bid you farewell, I thank you for hearing my story. May you be as powerfully convinced as was I about the truth that Jesus is God, for this is the “pearl of great price” which people all over the world are searching to find.
May all who search find the Son of God, Jesus, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. “
The Lord be with you!
The Rev’d. Gail Bryce
14th May, 2017
FEAST OF ST. PHILIP AND ST JAMES – APOSTLES
St. George’s Anglican Church, Ivanhoe East
10 am Wednesday, 3rd May, 2017
Isaiah 30:18-21 Psalm 19:1-6 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 John 14:6-14
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate and give thanks to God for the lives of St. Philip and St. James, both apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ and martyrs for their faith in Him.
When I reflect on the deaths of these two apostles, I am shocked and, at the same time, so in awe of Philip and James and the other apostles who died for their faith in our Lord. I have questioned myself as to whether I would stand the test of being faithful to our Lord even in the face of persecution and the threat death. Have you ever asked yourself this question?
ST. PHILIP AND ST. JAMES
Philip was an apostle of Jesus. After he responded to Jesus call to follow Him, he went and invited Nathaniel to join the band of disciples. So he was an evangelist from his beginnings. In the Gospel passage today, Philip asks Jesus to: “Show us the Father and we well be satisfied.” Jesus says plainly: “He that has seen me has seen the Father. I and the Father are one.” (John 14)
It is said “Foxes Book of Martyrs”, p.9.) that Philip labored to spread the Gospel amongst barbarous people and suffered in Hierapolis, a city of Phyrgia. He was crucified and stoned to death and buried there with his daughters.”
St. James was a disciple of Jesus and one of three disciples in Jesus’ inner circle, the others being Peter and John. James was present on the Mount of transfiguration when Jesus was transfigured and revealed His glory. Herod Agrippa ordered James’ death by a sword. (Acts 12:2)
I have the opinion that Christians are not popular in our society today. The church has much to apologize for from past events.
Jesus said to: “Count it all joy when we are persecuted and reviled and hated” and dealt with maliciously on account of Him, because this is what was done to the prophets in the Old Testament.
In our humanity, being the recipient of this kind of persecution, it is not easy to call this “joy”.
I’ve recently read some novels which related how people were persecuted, burnt at the stake, hung drawn and quartered for their Christian beliefs in England in the 1500’s and beyond. It is shocking what some people had to endure for what they believed.
We sometimes think that persecution of Christians doesn’t happen now to a great a number of people as it did back in the early days of Christianity or in the Middle Ages. I imagine we can all recall that our Television news has, at least over the last 12 months, given news of a number of incidents where Christians died for their faith in our Lord. I think of those Coptic Christians killed in Cairo on Palm Sunday and the Christians who were beheaded in Mosel and other places in Iraq.
An international Christian organization, “Open Doors”, has an article on the Internet, which says:
“A new report by a leading watchdog group has identified 2016 as the “worst year yet” for Christian persecution, ever since the organization began monitoring persecution 25 years ago.
(The report, which is produced annually by Open Doors USA, found that persecution of Christians rose globally for the third year in a row, reaching “unprecedented levels” in countries located in South and Southeast Asia, among other locations.)
“Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, beheadings, rape and even death as a result of their faith,” the report stated. The World Watch List (WWL) ranks the 50 countries across the globe where persecution of Christians is most severe.
Islamic extremism remains the dominant driver of Christian persecution in the world, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 out of the 50 countries on the 2017 list. Moreover, nine out of the top ten countries where Christians suffer “extreme persecution” have populations that are at least 50% Muslim.
For the 14th straight year, North Korea tops the list as the most dangerous place to be a Christian, followed by Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Eritrea and Yemen.
While killings of Christians in Nigeria saw a dramatic increase of more than 62 percent in 2016, the most violent nation is now Pakistan, which climbed to No. 4 on the list for a level of anti-Christian violence “exceeding even northern Nigeria.”
Many years ago, as I thought about my faith in our Lord and then compared myself with the “greats of the Christian faith, people like Philip and James, Paul, Mother Teresa, and so many other “greats”, I knew that the depth of my faith was “shallow” in comparison. This was one of the reasons which led me on a long search to find God and to know that He is real.
You’ve probably heard the story that if you were held hostage at gun point somewhere, and were given the option of denying our Lord and being set free or confessing Him as Lord and Saviour and being killed, what would you do? This is a challenge to each of us. Our brother and sister Christians in 50 other countries in the world face worse persecution than any of us will ever know personally.
Today, we honour saints Philip and James, giving thanks to God for their lives of faithfulness and witness which cost them their lives. We thank God for the inspiration they have been to countless Christians down through the ages.
As we contemplate the lives of St. Philip and St. James, may we be strengthened and emboldened to live our lives in faithfulness to our Lord.
The Lord be with you!
“THE GOOD SHEPHERD!”
St. George’s Anglican Church, Ivanhoe East
8 am and 10 am Fourth Sunday of Easter
7th May, 2017
Readings: Acts 2:42-47 Psalm 23 1 Peter 2:1-10 John 10: 1-10
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!
There have been many political tyrants in our world, (to describe some of them mildly), over the last century or so, I’m sure you’ll agree. People like: Sadam Hussein, Hitler, the leaders in El Salvador and China, Edi Amin, Kim Jong Un, Russian leaders including their current leader, Vladimir Putin – just to name a few. Can you imagine for a moment how you would have felt having a National leader of their ilk? The evidence is clear that, as political leaders, they have exploited their people, in many cases ruled with an iron fist and grown very wealthy instead of being leaders who inspire their people by the good example of a selfless life.
The history of the Israelites informs us that there were leaders, shepherds of the people, who were tyrants to their sheep.
By contrast, our own Anglican, Canon Andrew White, The Vicar of Baghdad, who has Multiple Sclerosis, remained with his flock in Baghdad keeping his promise not to desert them, facing bombs and danger daily, while caring for the destitute, homeless and injured who came to St. George’s Anglican Church, Baghdad. He has been an inspiring shepherd of his flock in war torn Iraq and a successful negotiator of peace talks in the Middle East for decades. Many, many miracles have occurred there. The chief shepherd of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Justin Welby, demonstrated our Lord’s shepherding care when he ordered Canon Andrew to return to the UK because the situation in Iraq had become so acutely dangerous.
In chapter ten of the Gospel according to John (today’s appointed Gospel reading), Jesus is at pains to teach the Pharisees that they have exploited the people, the sheep God has entrusted to them and have cared selfishly for themselves. That which led Jesus to launch into this teaching to the Pharisees was the incident recorded in the previous chapter of the Gospel according to John, chapter nine, when the Pharisees excommunicated from the Temple, the blind beggar whom Jesus had healed.
Jesus uses the imagery of “shepherd” because to the minds of the Israelites, shepherds were leaders, both in a political and a religious sense. God’s chosen people were referred to as: “the flock of the Lord” (Psalm 100:3). There are numerous passages in the Hebrew Scriptures which refer to the leaders of God’s people as the “shepherds” and God castigates them for attending to their own greed rather than caring for the people whom God had called them to serve, e.g., in Ezekiel, chapter 34:1f, we read: “The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophecy against the shepherds of Israel: prophecy; and say to them – to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah! You shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?”
“So it was that Israel awaited God’s re-assumption of the role of Shepherd. When Jesus announced that He was the True Shepherd He identified Himself with this expectation in Israel. He it is, who leads and guides and protects His people; it is He who will lay down His life for the flock.” “Commentaries on the readings of the Lectionary” P.78)
Jesus uses two “images”, firstly the “gate” and secondly the good “shepherd” image, in order to teach plainly His point, that the Pharisees before Him were “rogue” shepherds of God’s people, Israel, and that He, Jesus, is the true shepherd, demonstrated by the manner by which He cares for His sheep and will give His life for them on the Cross for their sins.
SHEPHERDS AND SHEEP!
In Australia, when we think of sheep, we think of vast herds or mobs of sheep possibly in their thousands, with a drover, mostly on a motor bike these days, and his sheep dog rounding up the sheep from behind and moving them forward from place to place for food and water.
In the Palestine of Jesus’ day, a shepherd would possibly only have up to twenty sheep in his care and would virtually spend most of his time, day and night, caring for them and protecting them against predators, enabling them to survive by leading them to food and water. At night, in order to keep the sheep safe, the sheep would be penned in an area around which walls of rock would contain them. This pen would not have a physical gate or door and the shepherd would place themselves across the opening into the pen, in order to keep the sheep safe from predators. The shepherd risked his life in order to protect the sheep. Sometimes several flocks of sheep with several shepherds, would be penned up in the same area at night, sometimes even in the courtyard of a residence. As day dawned, each shepherd would call their sheep to follow them and the sheep would only obey the voice of their own shepherd – never going with another shepherd – in fact they would run away from a shepherd not their own. This is still occurs in the Holy Land and other places today. A thief or bandit wouldn’t attempt to go through the opening where the shepherd rested and guarded his flock, but would try by another means, possibly scaling the wall, to gain access to the sheep. These are the thieves or bandits of whom Jesus speaks – but He actually means the religious leaders of Israel who have not cared for the sheep as God cares for His people, but feathered their own nests.
WHO DOES JESUS SAY HE IS IN TODAY’S GOSPEL?
In verse seven and following, Jesus says” “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep…….. I am the gate. Whoever enters by Me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (John 10:7+9)
A gate marks the proper place of entry. There is only one way to enter into God’s Kingdom and that is through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Jesus is the only legitimate way into God’s kingdom.
Jesus is saying that He is the gate through which a person enters into the place where God Himself, through His Son, shepherds that person, cares for them as a true shepherd should care for His flock.
In saying: “I am the gate,” Jesus is disclosing that He is God. Did God not say to Moses: “I am who I am”? (Exodus 5:14) “I am the gate”, is one of seven sayings by Jesus in the Gospel of John, which begin with the words, “I am”. “I am the gate”, “I am the living water”, “I am the light of the world”, “I am the bread of life”, “I am the true vine”, etc. In each of these statements Jesus reveals that He is God Incarnate.
In this passage, Jesus says that those who enter by the gate, “Hear His voice.” Just as the sheep hear and respond to the voice of their own shepherd, so those of God’s flock, those who believe in Jesus, will “hear His voice” and will respond only to Him.
An “example” of God’s chosen hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd and following Him was experienced by Ian and I when we visited an Anglican School for the deaf in Jordan. The Anglican priest from Holland, Father Andrew, told us that “lots of children convert from Islam to Christianity” at that school, even though it is against the Law in Jordan to convert to Christianity. The love of God was palpable in that place and many of us were reduced to tears even though nothing was said to even begin to touch our emotions. The love of God through the ministry of Fr. Andrew and other Christians in that place so touches the lives of the children and adults who attend that school, that they cannot help but hear God’s voice calling them to follow the Good Shepherd who leads them into full and abundant life.
Jesus says in John chapter 10, that He calls each of His flock by name, that He leads His sheep, that He goes ahead of His sheep and His sheep follow Him. This is the movement of a soul from darkness and unbelief into the light of the knowledge that Jesus is God’s Son and turning their lives around to follow Him.
The Twenty Third Psalm says: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside still waters.” (Psalm 23:1+2)
When we come to faith in God’s Son, Jesus, we are enabled to live life to the full knowing that He died on the Cross for our sins. We are then able to live life fully and freely, because our Lord has taken all, which weighs us down, our sin and guilt, and nailed them to the Cross so that we can go free – free to live life fully and abundantly. This is to feel fully human, fully alive! God always takes the initiative in drawing us to faith in His Son, Jesus. He calls us to follow Jesus. How caring and loving is God to do this?
In contrast to the political tyrants who have sown evil in our world, God, through the Good Shepherd, Jesus His Son, calls us by Name, guides and leads us to all we need for life and goes before us so that we will be safe.
May we trust our Saviour, God’s Son, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, with our life, as He “calls” us and “goes before us to lead us”.
Our response is to follow Him wherever He leads us.
The Lord be with you!