Sunday

17 April 2016

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (v. 28)

Psalm: Psalm 23


Background

By the time we come to this passage in John's Gospel, readers are already familiar with the image of the shepherd and the sheep. It may be that if we had to pick an animal to describe us, we might not choose a sheep, for sheep are not known for the kind of ingenuity or nobility to which we might aspire; and yet the persisting popularity of the image indicates that there is something in it that continues to speak to us. Perhaps, when we are feeling vulnerable or lost, or when we are struggling with the frailties of human existence and our own limitations, the image of Jesus as our shepherd can be helpful.

Here, the writer of John's Gospel draws on the depiction of Israel as God's flock in the Hebrew Scriptures to show that the true Israel is to be understood as those who recognise Jesus as their shepherd, hearing his voice and following him. Whilst verses 25-29 continue to be the source of much doctrinal debate about the relationship between the sovereignty of God and human freedom and responsibility, the main focus of these verses is the idea that what marks out the "sheep", the people of God, is this belief and recognition of who Jesus is in relation to God.

We already know (John 10:11-18) that the good shepherd, Jesus, cares for his sheep so much that he lays down his life for them, and we now learn something more: it is spelt out for us that the good shepherd protects his flock from being snatched (verse 29) by wolves or thieves or bandits. Those things that we fear or those things that threaten us might have all kinds of power over us, but ultimately they are no match for the sure eternal love of God through Jesus. In this, as in all things, Jesus acts with God's unique authority, and the whole passage leads up to the statement: "The Father and I are one" (v. 30). Those who believe are reassured that they cannot be snatched, or taken away, from God. Although we may falter and wander and feel vulnerable at times in our relationship with God, the powerful God does not desert or neglect us.


To Ponder

  • The passage draws on the images of thieves, bandits and wolves to represent threat. What things make you feel threatened at present?
  • What helps you to remember that the powerful God does not desert or neglect you, especially when you feel lost or vulnerable or frightened?


Bible notes author:  The Revd Nicola Price-Tebbutt

 

  • Sign up for e-newslettersKeep in touch with what interests you