Now Jesus concluded his public speaking in Solomons Portico during the festival season. He connected this discourse with his previous teaching, which is not in any way softened or modified, but uttered in accents of loving sadness rather than warning criticism. No better allegory than the Good Shepherd could be found for the shepherding of those to whom the flock of God was entrusted. If the scenes of the last few days had made anything plain, it was the utter unfitness of the teachers of Israel for their professed work of feeding Gods flock.
Christ knew anyone would understand the trust and devotion between a shepherd and his sheep as immortalized in David's Twenty-Third Psalm, which begins with The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need. Through this symbolic illustration, the Savior began an extended New Testament version of Psalm 23:
Anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold rather than going through the gate must surely be a thief and a robber! For the shepherd in charge of the sheep enters through the gate. The gatekeeper opens it for him and the sheep hear his voice. Then the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them and they follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger; they will run from him because they do not recognize his voice.
I am the gate for the sheep. All others who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Those who come in through me will be saved. Wherever they go, they will find green pastures. The thiefs purpose is to steal and kill and destroy; my purpose is to give life in all its fullness.
Since the days of Abraham and other patriarchs, shepherds have called in a strange language to their sheep, which hasten to follow. The Saviors flock would follow him, for they know his voice; but in vain would strangers seek to lead them away as the Pharisees and chief priests had tried. The rulers had entered into Gods sheepfold, but not by the door in which God the owner had brought his flock into the fold. The Pharisees had climbed in another way as robbers, and had wrongfully taken what did not belong to them. They had cast out the blind man, and would cast out Christ and his disciples.
Jesus contrasts himself with the false shepherd, The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will leave the sheep because they are not his and he is not their shepherd. So the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock while the hired hand runs away because he has no real concern for the sheep.
But I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep. The Father loves me because I lay down my life that I may have it back again. No one can take it from me. I lay down my life voluntarily. For I have the right to lay it down when I want, and also the power to take it again, for my Father has given me this command.
One Flock, One Shepherd
He concluded with a startling revelation, I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice; and there will be one flock with one shepherd.
Those scattered sheep of the Gentiles, who are not of the Jewish fold, have all the characteristics of the flock. They are his and they hear his voice, but as yet they are outside the fold. The Good Shepherd must lead them into the Kingdom of God which is opened to all believers.
How different from the Jewish idea is this kingdom with its Shepherd-King who knows and lays down his life for the sheep. He leads the Gentiles not to subjection or to inferiority, but to equality of faith and privilegesmaking the Jews and Gentiles into one flock. How different is he who comes in and leads them through Gods door of covenant mercy and Gospel promisethe door by which God ever brings his flock into his fold! This was the command the Father had given him.
The leaders could not bear to hear it. To some of the people it all seemed unintelligible, and they fell back on the favorite explanation of all this strange dramahe had a demon. But to others who were receptive, these words went straight to the heart, No one possessed by a demon could speak like this. Could a demon open the eyes of the blind? So he left the city in great controversy and traveled throughout Judea.
The Father and I Are One
Over two months had now passed. In the Lords absence, things had cooled off both politically and seasonallybut it was only temporary. It was winter when he returned to Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication of the Temple (Hanukkah or Feast of Lights) which commenced on the 25th day of Kislev (December) and lasted eight days.
Christ once more went to Solomons Portico. As he walked up and down teaching the people openly, again leaders from the Sanhedrin surrounded him. This time they went straight to the heart of the matter and asked, How long do you intend to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly! Their words had not an element of truthfulness or genuine inquiry in them. All they wanted was for him to tell them plainly if he was the Christ in hope of finding grounds for an accusation.
Jesus put aside their hypocrisy. What need was there of fresh speech? I have already told you and you refuse to believe. All the deeds I have done in my Fathers name bear ample testimony to me. But you do not believe me because you are not part of my flock. My own sheep recognize my voice and respond; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of my hand; for my Father who has given them to me is greater than anyone else, and certainly no one can take them from me. The Father and I are one.
His last words ignited a full-fledged confrontation with fiery tempers. At once the Jews picked up rocks to stone him for blasphemy.
The Lord, calm and cool, asked them a simple question, I have done many good deeds before your eyes; for which of these are you stoning me?
His calm manner and question distracted the Jews from carrying out their evil deed; and with rocks in hand, they stopped to answer, We are not stoning you for any good deed, but for blasphemy. You, a man, are claiming to be God!
Jesus refuted their argument, It written in your law I said: You are gods. Since Scripture cannot be set aside, why do you charge me with blasphemy for saying I am Gods Son, when the Father has consecrated and sent me into the world?
If they who had received an indirect commission were gods and representatives of God, how could it be blasphemy when he claimed to be the Son of God who had received authority through direct personal command to do the Fathers work? All would depend on whether Christ really did the works of the Father.
He gave them this test, If my deeds are not of the Father, do not believe me. But if they are, then even if you do not believe me, believe the deeds, so that you may recognize and know that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.
Again he dared to claim deity, but the stones that had been taken up were not thrown. The rulers only closed in and attempted to seize him; however, he disappeared into the crowd and left Jerusalem for Jericho.
From the Temple mount at 2,550 feet above sea level, Christ and his apostles took the road leading to Jericho. It twisted and turned beneath rocky overhanging cliffs as it descended over 3,300 feet into the Jordan River valley. The fourteen miles between Jerusalem and Jericho were a desolate journey among bandits hiding places.
At the bottom, Jericho was 800 feet below sea level, the lowest elevation city in the world and one of the oldest. It was an entirely different climatea desert oasis full of palm trees, springs, and a fertile plain in the area where the river met the north end of the Dead Sea. The city was a thriving winter resort and resting place for pilgrims between Galilee and Jerusalemand a refreshing change of scenery.
He arrived in the evening and stayed for the night with his disciples. As night was falling, they sat with other travelers around the campfire, listening with amusement to tales of adventure and hair-raising escapes along the road above, which grew more marvelous in the telling. The Son of God was the perfect storyteller, and stored up all scenes and incidents that made up day to day backgrounds of living. When a new story was demanded of him he would dip into his memory for what he wanted, just as a great painter reaches unerringly for the colors he needs.
Among those gathered around the fire was Seth, a lawyer. He was not one of the Jerusalem scribes or teachers but an expert in Jewish law in that district. He asked a question to test Jesus, Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?
Christ replied, What does the Law of Moses say? How do you read it?
The lawyer quoted the most important obligation, You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And, Love your neighbor as yourself.
You are correct, Jesus told him. Do this and you will live! Seths reply was remarkable, not only on its own account, but literally the same given by the Savior himself on two other occasions.
And who is my neighbor? He wished to justify himself in the sense of vindicating his original question, and showing that it was not quite so easily settled as the answer of the Teacher seemed to imply.
The Master paused a moment, as the painter pauses before his canvas choosing what paints he will use. He remembered the Samaritan woman who gave him water and the mens stories of the dangerous road they had just traveled. He always liked to use stories relating to what was near at hand.
In answering, Christ told one of the immortal stories of the world, A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes and money, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
A Jewish priest happened to be going along the same road; but when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side and passed him by. A Temple assistant (Levite) walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt deep pity. Kneeling beside him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two pieces of silver and told him to take care of the man. If you spend more, he said, I will repay you the next time I am here.
Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?
The heavenly simplicity and beauty of Jesus story broke the self-assertion of that young lawyer, for his answer had the same simplicity and beauty, The one who showed him mercy.
His Teacher was pleased, Yes, now go and do the same. The parable implied not a mere enlargement of a narrow religious view, but a complete change to a full world spiritual view. From him, as well as by his word, the lawyer learned a lesson of love. And surely Seth did what the Lord told him.
At dawn, Christ and the Twelve walked five miles to Fords of the Jordan and crossed over to the east side into Perea, where they were safe for the moment.