Monday, May 1, 2017

The Second Sunday after Easter - 30 April 2017



Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

"And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring,
and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd"

(John 10:16).

Where does Jesus Christ get his sheep? This may sound like an odd question, but in a world where human choice is so often exalted as the highest power, even in religion, it is a necessary question. Where does Jesus Christ get his sheep? 
Do the sheep of Jesus Christ, for example, choose themselves, and by their choosing make themselves members of Jesus Christ’s flock? This all sounds very "democratic" (from the Greek for "the people rule"), but does it have anything to do with a flock of sheep? Do sheep ever gather themselves, hold nominations, and then elect a shepherd? In reality, the sheep are selected, gathered into a flock, and have a shepherd set over them by the one who owns them. Sheep, after all, do not own themselves. 


In a similar vein, are all animals "sheep"? Clearly not, since only those creatures that God has made to be sheep are sheep, and sheep have to be separated from all the other kinds of animals in order to form a flock of sheep. The separation of the sheep from goats and other animals is the primary way that the owner of the flock claims the sheep as his own and declares to the world that they are his possession. Our Lord, in fact, uses this setting apart of the sheep as a "picture" of the Last Judgment: 

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats… (Matthew 25:31-32). 

Now we might think that these observations about sheep are so obvious that it is a waste of time to dwell upon them. And yet, our world is so full of ignorant teaching and intentionally false doctrine that we must consider them. Those who say that human beings can examine all the "religious options" and then choose Jesus Christ for themselves in a kind of "supermarket of religions" are saying that sheep can, indeed, create themselves, form their own flocks, and elect their own shepherds. They are saying that man can dictate the terms of faith and salvation to God. 
Worse yet, those who use our Lord’s words about "other sheep, which are not of this fold" to claim that all religions are just the same to God and that everybody in the world is saved no matter what he believes are calling Jesus Christ a liar when he says that he is the Good Shepherd who must both gather his sheep and separate them from the goats. They are saying that the central doctrine of Biblical Christianity, the atoning death of the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ for the sake of his sheep, is a lie, since it doesn’t matter if anybody appeals to that sacrificial death or not for the sake of his own salvation. 

Thus, in order to think about the Good Shepherd sanely and truthfully, we must ask, "Where does Jesus Christ get his sheep?" The answer, of course, is from his Father, from whom the Eternal Son of God receives all things. As God speaks through the Prophet Ezekiel, the sheep and the flock are his own: "And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord GOD" (Ezekiel 34:31). 
The sheep belong to God the Father, who has created them for himself through God the Son and by God the Holy Ghost. The sheep are the faithful, to whom God has decided before all time to give the graces of faith and adoption, thus separating them from the goats. In the same way, God also gives those that he has chosen for himself the grace that will free them from sin and enable their wills to follow the Good Shepherd that he appoints over them, his own Eternal Son Jesus Christ. 

When we understand these basic facts about the relation of God to his chosen people, and about God’s appointment of his Son to be their Shepherd, we can easily understand what our Lord Jesus Christ meant when he said, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." The Son of God was not embracing false religions. He was acknowledging his duty to lead all of the faithful, Jew and Gentile alike, to his Father. He was confirming that the ancient promise made to Abraham that his family (the Jews) would be a blessing to all the families of the earth (the Gentiles) has been fulfilled in himself (see Gen. 28:14). 

We can also understand how the mob responded to our Lord’s long, beautiful sermon of the Good Shepherd: "Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him" (John 10:31). If Jesus were not truly the Good Shepherd of God, then his words were blasphemies, a crime punished by stoning. When he said, "I am the Good Shepherd," he necessarily also said that the words of Psalm 23, "The LORD is my shepherd" had been written about himself. He necessarily said that David’s faith and the grace that David had received from God were given by the Father through him and in him. He necessarily said that he is God, since the "LORD" in the Psalm stands for the Name too holy to be pronounced by men, the I AM WHO I AM given by God to Moses from the Burning Bush. 

The mob also rebelled because our Lord Jesus Christ had said, "I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:14-15). In doing so, our Lord applied to himself the Messianic prophecy of Ezekiel: 
Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it (Ezekiel 34:22-24). 

Jesus Christ is the Son of David in whom all of the promises of God made to David are kept. He is more than David, however, because God is the Father who knows him and who sends him to form a single flock of the faithful. Christ will defend this flock from all enemies, including sin, Satan, and death, and he will do so as a "prince" among them. A "prince" in Hebrew is more than a ruler. He is quite literally one whom God has "lifted up," and this is how the Son of God will save his Father’s flock from all predators. As Christ announces only a little later in St. John’s Gospel, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." And as John explains, "This he said, signifying what death he should die" (John 12:32-33). 

The violence of the crowd’s reaction to all this is matched by the vigour of the words being spoken to them, albeit in love. Jesus Christ draws the comparison between himself, as the Good Shepherd who will die for his sheep, and all those in any age who would try to supplant the chosen Shepherd of God for their own benefit or their own interests: "But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep" (John 10:12). 
This comparison does not just "hang in the air," it relates to a common passage in the Old Testament, undoubtedly known to his audience. Young David, a shepherd boy, presents himself to King Saul to fight Goliath when none of Saul’s soldiers will accept the Philistine giant’s challenge. David says: 

Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God (1 Samuel 17:34-36). 

The Good Shepherd does not merely cuddle lambs, as so many religious pictures show him doing. He fights all the enemies of God’s sheep, whoever and whatever they are, because they are first and foremost God’s enemies, his Father’s enemies. And those in the mob that day who rejected the testimony of the Son of God understood in a flash that they had been warned: if they did not accept this Good Shepherd of God, then they were declaring themselves the enemies of the God who had sent him. 

On that day, they found it easier to pick up rocks to kill Christ than to accept the demands of the Gospel. On this day, however, you and I must offer God a more obedient heart and soul, and a better will to follow after his Good Shepherd. God will give us just such a heart, soul, and will by his grace, if we will only submit to that grace to accept them. We can be part of the flock, with Abraham, Moses, David, Ezekiel, and all the saints. Or we can be part of the hateful mob that denies the Good Shepherd either with rocks or with words. The difference isn’t what path we will choose for ourselves or what shepherd we will accept. The difference is belonging to God in Christ and following the Good Shepherd wherever he leads. 
 
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania


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