Additional to the lectionary readings
The Good News of knowing that we are His
The Ezekiel 34 passage uses the language ‘shepherds of Israel’ to denounce those who have only taken care of themselves, who have ruled selfishly and harshly and have ‘scattered the flock”. Our reading alludes to this abusive ‘shepherding’ in preceding verses and begins with the Lord saying that He Himself will search for His sheep and look after them. As David wrote at the start of His well known psalm, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want Ps.23:1. There is also a promise of a shepherd of the line and character of David – who we know as the Good Shepherd of the Gospels.
John 10:1-16, where Jesus speaks of Himself as the Shepherd who knows His sheep and whose sheep know His voice, is not part of this week’s readings but it summarises the theme nicely. In this well known Good Shepherd passage, Jesus emphasises in verses 11 and 14 His taking the divine title (“I am”) of the Good Shepherd. His first hearers would have recognised His applying to Himself the Shepherd of Israel prophecy of Ezekiel.
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know me,
15 just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Jesus knowing who are His, is fundamental to the Gospel. So is our knowing without doubt that we are His, fundamental to the Gospel. Everything centres on this personal and revealed relationship. It is not a claim we can make or a pretence we can keep up or a mantle we can put on for Sunday morning and take off during the week. Knowing, following and belonging to the Good Shepherd impacts every part of life; everything we say, every decision, every choice, every relationship. We either follow the Way of Jesus, or we are not fully His. We either know and belong – or we have not made that decision.
The separation of the sheep and goats in the Gospel reading, Matt. 25:33, reminds us that the Lord knows exactly who is His. In Ephesians 1 the spirit of wisdom and revelation is something we should ask for – revelation to know the hope, or assurance, of our salvation and to understand what it means – not just at the end of earthly life but daily salvation and deliverance at every twist and turn.
Knowing who we are in Christ is crucial to be able to live a victorious Christian life and contend with the undermining and accusing attentions of the enemy. Who is he to accuse us, if we belong to Jesus? Who is he to slander us, if we know we are sons of God? Why should we plead for what God has already promised us, if we are His? When we contend in prayer for a difficult situation, for ourselves or for others, knowing we are His gives us a confidence and authority in that prayer.
This new position in Christ, of belonging to God, of knowing that he is committed to us as the Shepherd of the sheep and that we live as the “sheep of His pasture” brings certain responsibilities to live and relate to others as he would have us do. But this is not a religious requirement; it is more of an outworking of the life of God in us. If we are His, the Holy Spirit has freedom to direct us. He will be speaking to us and we will listen to Him. We will find ourselves standing up for justice and opposing any harshness or selfishness in dealings with others. There will be a joy in our expression, and praise will be our natural response. We will have a generosity of spirit because the Spirit of Jesus gives us the generosity of spirit which is His, and our actions and reactions to the needs of others will demonstrate this. And we will think and speak and react differently, because we are receiving the revelation of who we are and the ongoing salvation which is His gift to us – we know because we know because we know, that there is always a way to be found through the red lights and road closures and bumpy sections of life, because we are His.