Welcome to the non-denominational Bible study for Sunday April 25 (Easter 4) TLW15B. Read the passages as they stand first and let the Holy Spirit reveal them to you. Then for a deeper dive you’ll find below the verse-by-verse commentary and reflections. There is also an article linked to this post, ‘Knowing the Good Shepherd — It’s personal’, see link below.
Theme: A personal relationship with the Good Shepherd
• See the article linked to this post ‘Knowing the Good Shepherd — it’s personal‘
• And there’s a video which tells the story ‘Knowing the Good Shepherd’
OT Psalm 23 — David’s special relationship with God points the way for knowing God through Jesus
NT gospel John 10:11-18 — Jesus reveals His mission as the Good Shepherd to rule His people with care and justice
NT narrative Acts 4:5-12 — Peter tells the court that salvation is found in no one else but the resurrected Jesus
NT letter 1 John 3:16-24 — Believers who truly belong to the Lord are known by their confidence before God and generous spirit
Psalm 23 — Knowing the provider and protector secures the soul
David’s special relationship with God points the way for knowing God through Jesus
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
“Shepherd” — a common metaphor for kings in Israel and the ancient Near East. In OT, widely used for the Lord as the Shepherd of Israel. In the NT, used of Jesus the great and good Shepherd, John 10:11, 14; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 7:17.
• For further study on the Lord as the Shepherd of Israel, Psalms 28:9; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Genesis 48:15; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 17:16; 31:10; 50:19.
2-3 He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul.
“Green pastures… still waters” — sheep, unlike the more independent goats, rely on the shepherd to find them good places for feeding and safe, still water for drinking.
3-4 He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
“The right paths” — free from danger, and not wandering off.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
“Darkest valley” — like the dark and deep wadis of dry riverbeds, inviting concealment and attack.
“You are with me” — these words emphasise God’s nearness and caring relationship, underlined by being at the exact centre of the psalm.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
“A table before me” — picture of a covenant treaty celebration with the vassal an honoured guest and enemies excluded.
6 Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
“Your goodness and love” — goodness coupled with mercy, chesed or faithful love, an intense expression.
“Dwell in the house of the Lord” — for a non-Levite, having ready access to the sanctuary for worship. This also describes the Christian of personal faith, who can worship any place and any time.
SUMMARY A psalm that describes the unusually close relationship David had with the Lord. It is clearly prophetic of Jesus who is both the Good Shepherd of the flock made up of those that trust in Him, and also the King with a perfect and caring rule that will be established.
APPLICATION What God wants more than anything, is a personal relationship in which He guides, provides and protects through earthly life, as a preparation for eternal life in heaven. Life will bring challenges and darker episodes, but God is with us in them
QUESTION In a recent life situation, good or bad, where in this psalm did you experience God?
John 10:11-18 — Jesus reveals His mission as the Good Shepherd
Ezekiel prophesied that God Himself would shepherd His people with justice
11 “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
“I am” — one of seven (number of completeness) “I am” sayings by Jesus which for Jewish hearers resonated with the way God revealed Himself to Moses, Exodus 3:14 and the seven “I am he” statements in Isaiah.
“The Good Shepherd” — Jesus is alluding to Psalm 23 (above) and also the scathing rebuke through Ezekiel in which which God called out the evil leaders of Israel and promised to personally become Israel’s Good Shepherd. Jesus identifies Himself with God by using this title.
For further study, read Ezekiel 34:1-6 and 7-31.
12-13 “The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
“Hired hand” — villages often had a communal flock and employed a shepherd to look after them. But a hired hand would not take the risks for the flock that their owner would.
14-15 “I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me — just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father — and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
“I know My sheep” — deep mutual experience, like the Father and the Son.
16 “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
I have other sheep” — for the first hearers, the gathering of God’s scattered people, Ezekiel 37:21-24; Micah 2:12 but here Jesus shows that He has sheep among the despised Gentiles also, John 7:35, and anticipates the mission to the Gentiles after Pentecost.
17-18 The reason my Father loves Me is that I lay down My life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
“I lay down My life” — this part of John’s gospel brings out Christ’s stated purpose of dying for His people. He would allow by His own authority; otherwise no one would have had the power to kill Him, Luke 23:46.
SUMMARY Jesus reminds His hearers of David’s psalm about the Lord who is his Good Shepherd. Less directly He references God’s rebuke of the harsh and corrupt leaders of Israel through Ezekiel, in which He stated He would be Israel’s Good Shepherd Himself. By identifying Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus was showing His deity and Messiahship.
APPLICATION The relationship that God seeks can only come through Jesus the Good Shepherd. It is central to understanding how this works, that this Shepherd is exceptional in sacrificially losing His life to save His sheep.
QUESTION What is the importance of the sheep listening to the Shepherd’s voice, v.16?
Acts 4:5-12 — Salvation is found in no one else but Jesus
Jesus crucified then raised from the dead healed the lame man, Peter tells court
5-6 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family.
“Rulers… elders… teachers of the law” — the three groups represented on the supreme court that was comprised of 70 of the wealthiest and mosat powerful men of Israel, presided over by the high priest of the time. This was the same court that had condemned Jesus.
7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
“By what power” — the healing was indisputable; the question was about how the man was healed, and by whose authority.
8-10 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
“Filled with the Holy Spirit” — there are a number of instances in Acts of people being filled with the Spirit, a repeatable and also a situational experience.
“Called to account” — Jesus had promised that the disciples would stand before kings and rulers and that the Spirit of God within them would give them what to say, Matthew 10:16-20.
• For further study, read Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; Acts 9:17; Acts 13:9.
11 “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’
“The cornerstone” — Peter uses the argument of precedent, as used in courts today, quoting Psalm 118:22 which Jesus has also used in His parable about the wicked tenant farmers, directed against these same corrupt leaders of Israel, Luke 20:17.
12 “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
“Found in no one else” — in that one sense exclusive, but in another fully inclusive, available to all who believe. The Bible is clear that there is no means of salvation other than Jesus the Messiah.
• For further study, read Matt. 11:27; John 3:18; 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 5:12.
SUMMARY Peter and John are brought before the same court that convicted Jesus. Jesus had told them that they would be put on trial before rulers, but the Holy Spirit would tell them exactly how to answer. This is seen in Peter’s bold, unapologetic reply which makes one of the clearest statements about Jesus and salvation in Him.
APPLICATION To say that there are many paths to salvation and many dimensions of the truth may sound inclusive and politically correct, but it is impossible to square with this statement by Peter which is supported by the general thrust of the New Testament. Salvation comes through repenting of our own efforts and believing what Jesus has done for us.
QUESTION Why is “Salvation is found in no one else” held by some to be controversial? Is salvation exclusive or inclusive?
1 John 3:16-24 — Those who belong to the Lord have changed lives
Confidence before God, generosity towards other sets apart the true believer
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
“Lay down our lives” — in John’s churches some believers were martyred and slaves were often tortured for information. A believer might have to pay a big price to avoid betraying a brother.
17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?
“Material possessions” — material objects that sustain life, essentials.
18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
“Love… with actions and in truth” — or in reality. Love is not sentiment but has an outworking, James 2:15-16.
19-20 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.
“God is greater” — an inner conviction by the Holy Spirit that our love has lacked substance is more than matched by God’s capacity to forgive.
21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him.
“We have confidence” —if we have a clear conscience, we can go to God confidently in the relationship we have with Him.
23 And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us.
“To believe… and to love” — compare with Jesus’ answer to the scribe about the Great Commandment, Matthew 22:34-40
24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.
“We know it by the Spirit” —The Holy Spirit’s work in the believer is assumed throughout the letter. Here John summarises the test for discerning who has the Spirit — not (as the false teachers claimed) an elite who claim to be enlightened without their lives being changed but the evidence of believers growing in faith and sacrificial love, v.23 and Galatians 5:22-23.
SUMMARY John writes from the perspective of Spirit-filled believers growing in the their faith and witness against the twin dangers of unregenerate and deceptive teachers; and the ever-present risk of martyrdom. True believers stand out by their transformed lives, their loving concern for others in sharing necessities, praying confidently and growing in discipleship.
APPLICATION As James said in His letter, faith and love must be sincere, resulting in deeds and actions. John expands that teaching, emphasising that the born-again believer will be a transformed person, of confident faith and prayer life and evidently full of the Spirit of God and full of God’s love.
QUESTION Most believers in the western world do not face the kind of persecution that John’s readers did. What does laying down our lives for our brothers mean to us?
PRAYER Thank You, God our Father, for sending Your Son to make a way back for us to be accepted by You.
Thank You for His incomparable love shown in the self-sacrifice of the Cross, and for being faithful and merciful to us, when our love for You has often been fickle.
May we grow in faith and love towards You, and among all Your diverse children, as we share the precious relationship we have through Your Son, Jesus. Amen.
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