The Church of England - - BOOKS / SUNDAY -

4th Sun­day of Easter — Sun­day 26 April 2015

Acts 4:5-12 1 John 3:16-24 John 10:11-18 Our read­ings this week rivet our at­ten­tion on the vol­un­tary self-giv­ing of Christ for his peo­ple, that marks out a way for all of us to fol­low in build­ing and pas­tor­ing the church.

In John 10, “the great shep­herd of the sheep” (He­brews 13:20), de­fines his role as the good shep­herd. He is not a mer­ce­nary, tak­ing the pay (or the glory, or the stipend or the par­son­age!) with­out car­ing enough to give his life. He knows the sheep, deeply and pro­foundly, and so lays down his life for each of them by name.

Speak­ing to Jews, he tells them there are other sheep who be­long to him in other folds, and that his plan is to build a united church. He will unite Gen­tiles to Jews in one fold, in him: one flock, one shep­herd. This will hap­pen as his voice is heard, be­cause wher­ever they are, his sheep know his voice and will hear­ken to it as a sound they know and trust. That voice will ring out once he has both laid down his life and taken it up again, he says — em­pha­sis­ing his sovereign con­trol over the whole process.

In Acts 4, we have one of the clear­est state­ments of Christ’s unique­ness in the New Tes­ta­ment. There is sal­va­tion in no one else, says Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit. There is no other name un­der heaven by which we can be saved, but Je­sus. He is the only way, the one true shep­herd.

And yet, this is said in a con­text where the very peo­ple be­ing ad­dressed had been re­spon­si­ble just a lit­tle while be­fore­hand for the cru­ci­fix­ion of the God-man, the way, the truth, the life. He was in­deed the cor­ner­stone of God’s plan of re­demp­tion, and yet they had re­jected him as worth­less, good for noth­ing. So Peter chal­lenges them with th­ese un­com­fort­able truths, and ques­tions the way they wish to build the church. He did not lay down his life for them to lay down an­other cor­ner­stone. He did not lay down his life need­lessly, be­cause there was no other way by which men and women could be saved.

In 1 John 3, that act of wicked re­jec­tion and pow­er­grab­bing cru­elty is pre­sented not as an act of fool­ish men, but as a sovereign act of di­vine grace. Je­sus laid down his life. He did not lose it in an un­for­tu­nate ac­ci­dent, or by chance, or by plot, but by de­sign. He gave up his life will­ingly and vol­un­tar­ily. And that self­less mo­ment at the end of a self­less life pro­vides the model for believ­ers to fol­low. Je­sus has left us a tem­plate to fol­low, a sten­cil, and it is cross-shaped.

But John does not leave that idea float­ing in the air like an ab­stract the­o­log­i­cal ax­iom. He ap­plies it very di­rectly. If the cross shows us what love is, and you claim God’s love abides in you, then how can you refuse to help a brother or sis­ter in need? For Christ did not ig­nore or ne­glect our need, or love in words and empty “po­lit­i­cal” prom­ises. He loved us in truth and ac­tion, as we must please God in the power of the Spirit by lov­ing oth­ers in the flock and fam­ily of God too. If they obey his com­mand­ments, they abide in him; and if they abide in him, we can­not be deaf, dumb, or blind but come to their aid in time of need.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.