You cannot appreciate this passage until you see it in the light of the dereliction and wreckage of the eleven remaining members of the apostolic “flock” before, during and after the passion of Christ.
They were prayer-less and clueless.
By the time Christ the Great Shepherd is hanging on the cross, the sheep, his disciples were spiritually bankrupt, afraid and lost. Christ the good shepherd laid down his life for his scattered sheep and would gather them in his awesome redemption.
They were as sheep going astray (1 Pet. 2:25). Isaiah prophesied not only of his original apostles but, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6a). The idea of sheep going astray sounds so innocuous and cute, but the brutal truth is that because of our wandering far from God, “the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa. 53:6b). While sheep can represent the people of God, sheep also represent the repulsion we have for God and his ways and that the desire to sin can be so strong that even after one is a child of God we can wander in the wrong direction and must be brought home time and again.
Yet the Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep (Heb. 13:20), says to his people, “I have loved you, saith the LORD.” (Mal. 1:2). Why? Why does he love the sheep? He explains, “God wasn’t attracted to you and didn’t choose you because you were big and important—the fact is, there was almost nothing to you. He did it out of sheer love…” (Deut. 7:7-8Message).
Christ loves his people. It is an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). It is a love from eternity and a love that lasts for an eternity. This is because God’s love is a Trinitarian love, a love that preexisted veiled in such mystery in the Godhead- that theologian’s pen runs out of ink, the best worshippers run out of words, and angels run out of tears when you attempt to describe it. Jesus says, “For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24). Jesus said, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.” (John 15:9). We share in a love that is as eternal as God himself, a quality of love that is the same love the Eternal Father has for the Eternal Son and there is no end to it. “He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love! Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Eph 1:4-5). Ceaseless praise for eternity could not fathom such love!
It is an undying love, yet a love that died for us. The Bible says he loved them to the end (John 13:1) and he proved that love by his death on the cross (Rom 5:8). It is a complete love and his relationship with his disciples was one characterized as love, “love one another; as I have loved you.” (John 13:34). Imagine a life described as Divine Love. Imagine being around Christ in whom is God’s love expressed! Jesus says again, “For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.” (John 16:27). His people are defenseless to his love. They melt and are wooed by it!
It is an otherworldly love. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” (1 John 3:1). The phrase “manner of love” (potapēn agapēn) refers to country or race. So it can be asked, “What foreign kind of love is this” (Wuest). It cannot be found in any nation, tongue, kindred, or tribe. It is heavens love! It is a foreign kind of love, as foreign as heaven shores are to earth’s oceans. Fpor us to understand this love it had to be translated for us to understand and there only language or anaology that could capture it was in the cross of Jesus. It was God’s love interpreted to us! If you would understand God’s foreign love, you must understand the alien truth of justification by faith in Jesus Christ and his saving work on the cross.
“Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see, the very dying form of One who suffered there for me! And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess: the wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.”
God calls his true shepherds to focus on the real covenant love of God found in their Shepherd Christ that has predestined a people, His sheep to come home. It is that wonderful, yet terrible cross that keeps our hearts warmed with gratitude and affection! How the rod and staff of the cross should comfort and lead God’s people! Jude says to, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” (Jude 1:21). How wonderful is his love, may it have over our being absolute sway! May we be encouraged to constantly look for his mercy and saty in the sphere of his love by those who claim to feed the sheep of God! The people of God in their hearts and their pastors from their pulpits should, “set it always before them, to keep it constantly in view, to exercise faith on it, firmly believing their interest in it; as also to meditate on it, give themselves up wholly to the contemplation of it, and employ their thoughts constantly about it, which is the foundation of all grace here, and glory hereafter…” (Gill).
(c) 2011 Stephen S. Gibney Soul Health Care Ministries
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