Based on Nov. 22 readings (Year A):
OT: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 — The promise of a divine leader whose rule is about care and justice
NT gospel: Matthew 25:31-46 — Jesus teaches the end-time separation to come when His ‘sheep’ are honoured but the ‘goats’ sent away in judgment.
NT letter: Ephesians 1:15-23 — How coming to faith in Jesus is the start of a growing revelation and experience of Him.
His sheep know Him
There’s a difference between the sheep of the flock, who stay close to their shepherd, and the goats. The goats run with the flock but are not part of it. They are too independent for that!
The shepherd knows which are which — in fact He knows His sheep really well and they know Him.
Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and my sheep know Me.— John 10:14 NIV
That’s a good headline to the message that comes out of this triad of Scriptures. Jesus wants a relationship with us. He wants us to know Him, in the sense of experiencing Him in our everyday lives. That’s a step change from just knowing about Him, or having a kind of arms-length understanding which comes through church liturgy. The picture we get of Jesus by this means can be skewed or incomplete. It all depends whether the church leader, whatever title they have, has that personal relationship with Jesus themselves, and can share faith in that way.
The OT reading, Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, follows the earlier part of the prophecy which calls out the harsh and corrupt leadership in Israel. This is what brought the severe judgment of exile. In this context, this word from God foretells a time when God Himself will be the just and fair shepherd.
“I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord… I will shepherd the flock with justice.”— Ezekiel 34: 15-16.
Then, a little confusingly, the word speaks of placing over them:
“…One shepherd [of the line of] my servant David; he will tend them and be their shepherd.”— Ezekiel 34:23
Jesus our Good Shepherd
Is this a contradiction? No, because it points to the coming of Jesus who was both fully God and fully man. He would be that shepherd, that leader of the line of his renowned ancestor David. And that is how God Himself will be the good and fair shepherd that Ezekiel spoke about.
It is all about the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep, between God and those who willingly belong to Him. This is why Jesus described the separation at the end of time as sheep and goats:
‘When the Son of Man comes in His glory… He will separate the people… as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.— Matthew 25:31-33
Are we sheep or goats?
The compliant sheep will be welcomed and honoured. The independent-minded goats will be separated out and excluded. We sometimes think of sin as overt rebellion against God, which it is. Or we might call sin falling short of the mark, which apart from Jesus is inevitable. But the root of sin from the earliest times was Adam and Eve’s independent thought and action. To put it in very contemporary terms, they disdained the official guidance. That’s where it all went wrong.
Are we sheep, submitted to Jesus and willing to follow Him wherever He leads us? Or are we still independent? We can attend church (or participate in the live stream) and be seen to be doing all the ‘right’ things, but with an independent mind set. Until we have accepted Jesus as the Son of God and our Saviour, and asked Him into our heart to rule and reign as Lord, we’ll be living our own independent life. We’ll be found scrambling up the unexplored hillside, when the shepherd is calling the flock to follow Him in the other direction
Jesus wants a relationship with us. In that relationship, we experience who He is, and also how He is, and we grow like Him. And the more we know Him and experience Him in our lives, the more He will be able to delegate His kingdom purposes to us. Who actually carries them out? We do. That’s a relationship which is also a partnership.
This is where Paul is coming from, in his prayer for the Ephesus Christians. He prays that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the ‘eyes’ of their hearts:
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.”— Eph. 1:17-18
They were living in an intensely pagan society with all sorts of deities being worshipped. The most honour was reserved for the so-called Queen of Heaven. There was a whole hierarchy of powerful demonic forces arrayed against the vulnerable Christian believers. The needed to know that Christ was the greatest power:
“… far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked…”— Eph. 1:21
The way to invoke the Name that is above all names, is to have that deep and deepening heart relationship with Jesus. You can’t pray in the name of someone you don’t know, who doesn’t know you. It not about using the right form of words. It has to come from a believing, submitted heart, otherwise the devil and his minions have every right to say:
“‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?’”— Acts 19:15
Time to reappraise: is Jesus at the centre?
This is written at a time of lockdown (November 2020) when churches are unable to meet. There’s a lot of regret that this is necessary. However, on the positive side, it forces a re-set of the old, comfortable routines and an examination of what we are really doing. Is our meeting together really about Jesus and deepening our relationship with Him? Or is it a recitation (and even performance) in front of a passive audience? Is it more about the form and the tradition, than it is about the faith, the fellowship — and the shared friendship with the One we gladly relate to as Lord?
Paul wants the new Christians around Ephesus to be growing deeper in Jesus. Jesus is God shepherding us Himself. And Jesus wants us in His sheepfold where He knows us and we know Him and our destiny is assured, because it is all about that relationship and what He has done for us.
We must move from knowing about God, to knowing God personally. And keep on, experiencing and growing.
Back to Sunday, November 22 post