Theme: Jesus the Good Shepherd is our entrance to new life
“You are with me” is the truth that counters fear and anxiety as we, like David, look to God as provider and protector.
Jesus teaches that He is the gate to an abundant and eternal life in which He knows us and we know Him
Acts 2:42-47 text
The call of Christ is the shared experience of new life in Him that brings brings real relationship and togetherness
Belonging to the Good Shepherd is a call that brings a cost, as the new life and freedom may be a threat to some
Psalm 23 — King David calls the Lord his provider and protector
“You are with me” is the truth that answers fear and anxiety
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
“My shepherd” – David used to keep sheep and knew how dependent sheep are on on the shepherd for guidance, provision and protection. “Shepherd” was often used of kings in the ancient Near East. David is saying, Yahweh rules his life.
2-3 He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
“Makes me lie down” – to rest like a sheep in safety. The LORD brings good provision and refreshment (sheep avoid lively water) and guidance. “For His name’s sake” – about who God is, His nature to give.
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” – unlike “green pastures” and “quiet waters”, ravines in dark shadow are dangerous.
“You are with me” – not now talking ABOUT God, talking TO Him. The centre point and the headline.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
“Anoint my head” – like a specially honoured guest.
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.
“Goodness and love” – “goodness and mercy” (ESV)…unfailing love” (NLT), covenant language revealing what God is like.
“I will dwell” – points to Jesus who said “I am the good shepherd”, John 10:11 and 14, and who laid down His life so we could choose new and eternal life by believing in Him.
There’s a profound message in this familiar psalm. Sheep need help from the shepherd to find the good places to feed and drink, and to be protected from danger. They are reliant! God our Father is the very best kind of shepherd to us, “the people of His pasture, the flock under His care,” Psalm 95:7.
Implied rather than stated is our part in the relationship – trusting God with our lives.
Of these provisions, what might we take for granted? What do we ask for?
John 10:1-10 — Jesus is the gate into abundant and eternal life
Like sheep in a flock, we know His voice and He knows us
1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
“Sheep pen” – courtyard of stone walls topped with thorny branches and a single gate, offering security for several families’ flocks at night. Only a robber would enter by force.
2 “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
3 “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
“The shepherd… the gatekeeper” – the gatekeeper was employed by the various families. Each shepherd knew and named his sheep, who would respond to their shepherd calling their name.
“He calls his own sheep” – Jesus knows and loves us as individuals who He has called to belong to Him; we choose to follow Him, recognising His voice as distinct from others.
4 “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
“Know his voice” – Middle Eastern sheep are obedient and follow the shepherd.
5 “But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.”
6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
“Figure of speech” – referring to the Pharisees’ dismissive treatment of ordinary people, similar to the abusive leadership of Ezekiel 34.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.
8 “All who have come before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.
“Thieves and robbers” – exploiting people as in Ezekiel 34:2-4; in Jesus’ time, the Pharisees.
9 “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.
“Whoever enters through Me will be saved” – clear teaching on Jesus being the one distinct route to salvation, also Acts 4:12.
10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
“The thief” – who takes life; by comparison, Jesus confers life, eternal life which starts immediately we turn to follow Him. The saying sets Satan’s strategy of robbing people of joy and keeping them in bondage, against Jesus’ teaching that He sets people free by His truth into “having [life] to the full.”
• For further study, compare John 10:10 with John 8:32, 36.
Jesus further reveals who He is with another of the “I am” sayings, reflecting on Psalm 23 — a description of God as the very best caring shepherd.
His “thieves and robbers” are the “harsh shepherds” of Ezekiel 34 who caused the exile and scattering of the flock. Ezekiel had prophesied, also reflecting Psalm 23, “I Myself will tend My sheep and have them lie down… I will place over them one shepherd, [of the line of] my servant David, and He will tend them… and be their shepherd,” Ezekiel 24:15 and 23.
Jesus’ hearers, many of them Pharisees who prided themselves on their knowledge of the Scriptures, could not have missed that reference as Jesus proclaimed, “I am the gate – whoever enters through Me will be saved.”
We live in a world of many voices demanding inclusivity in all things and despising the truth Jesus clearly taught, that He alone is the entrance to salvation, freedom and God’s provision – life to the full.
Jesus is the Way, not one of the ways, and He knows His flock in a personal relationship, as His flock also know His voice.
How do we recognise the voice of the shepherd and bringer of life, and how is it distinct from the voice of the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy?
Acts 2:42-47 — The call of Christ is togetherness in community
The shared experience of new life in Christ brings real relationship
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
“The apostles’ teaching” – like Peter’s message, e.g. vv. 22-41 which emphasised eyewitness testimony to His miraculous works and resurrection, the fulfilment of the OT prophecies about the Lord, also all that Jesus taught.
“Teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer” – the four pillars of the Christian gathering, a relational, participative affair. Prayer was also worship; breaking of bread was essentially a fellowship meal which also remembered the Lord’s Supper.
43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
“Many wonders and signs” – the ministry of Jesus continuing through the apostles and associates like Philip, the language of miracles occurring regularly, many more than recorded by Luke.
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.
“Everything in common” – the sense of possessions held lightly and used for others as needs arose. Not early communism: believers went on holding property, met in their homes, and giving was voluntary.
45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…
“Continued to meet…in the temple courts” – the centre of community life. The believers were not starting a new religion but proclaiming the reality of the salvation promised to Israel. Their call was to love one another, John 13:34-35, and share lives in a community of teaching, prayer and worship, possessions and fellowship. They gathered en masse at the Temple for teaching and met in many homes, a pattern which continued, Acts 20:20.
47 …praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
“Added to their number daily” – in a short time (uninhibited by persecution) the 3,000 of Pentecost was 5,000 men, with women also playing their part.
However many times we re-read this passage about the first believers gathered in teaching, prayer and fellowship, we are struck by the way they related and joined together in community. They had the unity of a common, shared experience — knowing Jesus the ascended Lord of lords through the power of the Spirit.
Where denominations compete, and church attenders come together in friction rather than fellowship, we have to ask: what has been lost? Is that common experience of submitting to Jesus the ruling factor? Is the essential simplicity of the early believers’ worship and spiritual lives still what we seek, or has it become complicated through man-made constructions?
Do we meet in homes, eating together with glad and sincere hearts, or is it now all front-led ‘temple’ meetings?
Is it a realistic expectation that numbers should grow through people regularly coming to salvation? At a time of such marked decline among all the traditional denominations, what priorities might need to change?
1 Peter 2:19-25 — Belonging to the Shepherd is a call with a cost
The good news of freedom is not welcomed by all
19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.
“Bears up… conscious of God” – slaves who had believed in Jesus were expected to follow the religion of the house. They showed the grace of God in their attitude to undeserved beatings.
20-21 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“To this you were called” – to live for the Suffering Servant Jesus, who took persecution and unjust punishment. The good news of freedom in Jesus Christ often provokes the opposite kind of reactions.
• For further study, read Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
22-23 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.
“He did not retaliate” – ways in which Jesus revealed Himself as the foretold suffering servant. In that culture honour was defended by returning insults.
24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the Cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
“Die to sins and live for righteousness” – symbolised and made public in baptism. Jesus’ death breaks the power of sin in our lives, and His Spirit empowers us to live better in God’s sight, two vital factors that distinguish the new, regenerate life. Jesus is our substitute, not just our pattern.
“By His wounds you have been healed” – through Jesus’ physical suffering from flogging and crucifixion, our believing in Him is a healing of spirit, extending to soul and body. Matthew applies these words from Isaiah 53:4 to Jesus’ physical healings, Matthew 8:17.
25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
“Like sheep going astray” – like sheep that tend to wander, we need the guidance of the Shepherd.
• For further study, see Isaiah 53:6, Psalm 23:1, John 10:11, 14; Hebrews 13:20, also John 21:15-17.
New life in Christ brings not only different beliefs, but a different set of values – living for others and showing the grace and forbearance which was the mark of Jesus.
In a selfish, individualistic world this was, and still is, a culture clash. The slaves’ masters didn’t like it and neither do many employers, e.g. Christian nurses forbidden to wear crosses and teachers constrained by liberal views on marriage, gender and beliefs.
There’s a cost to the call and a cross to bear, as Jesus said, but the “example that you should follow” is not to seek holiness through suffering, as medieval religion taught. That is a man-centred approach which seeks to earn what can only be freely given.
The call is to accept graciously and with joy the suffering that may come BECAUSE we are holy and set apart – a very different response coming from the leading of the Spirit.
How will people see Jesus in us? How might our handling of life’s tough situations witness to Christ?
Lord Jesus, we are so grateful that You are the Good Shepherd we first meet in David’s psalm, and also our gateway into knowing the Father’s abundant life and eternal rest. We thank You, too, that we have been called into a body where everyone is valued, and the joys and setbacks of life are shared. May we reveal You by handling life’s injustices with Your grace, and by giving a good shepherd’s care to those who have needs — all to give glory and honour to You. Amen.
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