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.