Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23:1-6; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18.
SELF-GIVING LOVE AND RESURRECTION LIFE.
(A) Acts 4:5-12.
There is a parallel between the persecution of Jesus upon the healing of a man ‘blind from birth’ (John 9:1), and the persecution of Peter and John upon the healing of a man ‘lame from his mother's womb’ (Acts 3:2). Suffice it to say that there was a division of opinion about Jesus on both occasions (John 10:20-21; Acts 4:21).
What a day for the man! He had hoped for alms, but instead - at an age over forty years (Acts 4:22) - received for the first time in his life the use of his legs. The people were filled with wonder, and as Peter preached in such a way as to turn their attention away from the Apostles to Christ, another five thousand men were added to the congregation that day (Acts 4:4).
On top of this, Peter had ‘preached in Jesus the resurrection’ - much to the consternation of the Sadducees (Acts 4:1-2). Well might the aristocratic priesthood ask, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” (Acts 4:7). It was the threat to THEIR power and THEIR authority which had caused them to hand Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified!
It was the content of this preaching, as much as anything else, which had aroused the anger of the Temple authorities. Peter and John were arrested and spent the night in prison (Acts 4:3). The next day the two Apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5) - the same court which had arraigned Jesus and handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified. The high priests Annas and Caiaphas were there (Acts 4:6), who had both figured in the trial of Jesus. Now Peter and John were being called to account for the healing of a lame man, and for preaching in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.
Jesus told His disciples, ‘The servant is not greater than his Lord’ (John 13:16). ‘If they have persecuted Me, they will persecute you’ (John 15:20).
‘And when they bring you to trial before rulers and powers, don’t worry about what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say’ (Luke 12:11-12). ‘For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you’ (Matthew 10:20).
This accounts for the change in Peter, who had gone from a quivering mess at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, to the rock-like character portrayed in the name which Jesus had given him (cf. Matthew 16:18).
Filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8), Peter first pointed out the absurdity of bringing men to trial because of an evident healing (Acts 4:9). Then he accused his accusers of crucifying Jesus and proclaimed that the lame man stood before them healed exactly because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:10)! Peter reminded them of a song that would have been on their lips at the time of the festival: “The stone which YOU builders rejected has become the head stone of the corner,” he taunted (Acts 4:11; cf. Psalm 118:22).
Confronting the council with their guilt in rejecting Jesus, Peter again used the healing as an opportunity to proclaim the much fuller salvation which is found in the Saviour's name (Acts 4:12).
The court was astonished at the courage of Peter and John. These two men had not been to any of their Rabbinic schools of theology, and they were laymen who had been observed in the company of Jesus. Yet there standing before them all was the incontrovertible proof of the healed lame man. Peter and John were sent away while the court deliberated (Acts 4:13-15).
Luke was inspired by the Holy Ghost for the writing of Holy Scripture. We gather from Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-3 that he was an excellent and thorough investigative reporter. His research may have included some information from his travelling companion, the Apostle Paul, who had been a student of a well respected member of the council, Gamaliel. Whatever his sources, Luke is able to give us a fly-on-the-wall account of the private deliberations of this court.
The fact of the matter is that Peter and John's would-be accusers could do nothing. The miracle was undeniable. So they warned Peter and John not to preach any more in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:16-18). The Apostles' response set a precedent in civil and ecclesiastical disobedience: ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:19-20).
This is the third time that Peter has used the formula, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God has raised from the dead” (Acts 2:23; Acts 3:15; Acts 4:10). There IS a connection between healing, salvation, and Jesus’ resurrection, as Doctor Luke repeatedly testifies.
“Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
(B) Psalm 23:1-6.
1. The LORD is my Shepherd.
When King David was a boy, he used to look after his father’s sheep - so he knew what he was talking about when he spoke of the LORD as his shepherd. As we all know, a “shepherd” looks after sheep. David led the sheep, but the LORD led David.
Yet one day the LORD called David away from that life of looking after sheep, and after many adventures David became king of Israel (Psalm 78:70-71). Instead of leading sheep, he was to lead God’s people. Now, more than ever, King David needed to follow the leading of the LORD God.
King David could look back on his life as a shepherd boy, and remember the times when God had helped him. One time a lion tried to steal a lamb. Another time a bear tried to steal a lamb. Both times the LORD helped King David rescue the lamb (1 Samuel 17:34-35).
Psalm 23:1. “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not lack anything.”
Another Psalm tells us that there is ‘no good thing that the LORD will withhold’ from the people who walk in His righteous way (Psalm 84:11).
Jesus said that when we seek God’s kingdom, and His righteousness, He will provide for us all that we need (Matthew 6:33).
Psalm 23:2. “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” For a sheep, this means delicious green grass.
“He leads me beside still waters” – rather than scary noisy fast-running water in which the sheep might drown.
Sheep sometimes do silly things. I can remember seeing a sheep that had wandered onto the shore because it saw a nice piece of grass in the shallow water. When the tide started to come in, that silly sheep nearly got drowned.
God does not give us permission to go into silly places.
Psalm 23:3. “He restores my soul.” The shepherd rescues the sheep from dangerous and forbidden places. The LORD restores the life of His people.
“He leads me in the paths of righteousness” – the shepherd knows where the right paths are, and leads the sheep there. The LORD has given us His Word, the Bible, to guide us and to teach us in His ways.
“For His name’s sake.” The shepherd looks after his sheep properly so that people do not think that the shepherd is silly. When we disobey God, we dishonour His name.
Jesus is the good shepherd, who gives His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The shepherd calls His own sheep by name, and He leads them out. Those who hear the voice of Jesus will follow Him, and He leads us beside the still waters, and into the paths of righteousness (Psalm 23:2-3).
Jesus is the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80:1): but His flock (His people) includes those out of every nation, throughout all of time, who follow Him.
2. A Sheep's Response to the Good Shepherd.
‘All we like sheep have gone astray’ (Isaiah 53:6). Yet when we know Jesus as our Good Shepherd (John 10:14), we have full bragging rights (Psalm 23:1-3). One of the distinguishing marks of the Good Shepherd is His compassion towards an otherwise leaderless people (Mark 6:34).
Having told the other sheep about the Good Shepherd, the sheep now addresses Him in person. “You” are with me; “your” rod, and “your” staff comfort me (Psalm 23:4). “You” prepare a table before me; “you” anoint my head with oil (Psalm 23:5).
Finally, just in case the sheep still has fears in the dark valley (Psalm 23:4), the Psalm ends with the reassurance of a personal reflection (Psalm 23:6). The Lord is our Shepherd (Psalm 23:1), we might say, and His compassions they fail not (Lamentations 3:22-24). ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’ (1 Samuel 7:12).
In the valley, death is only a shadow (Psalm 23:4). Since I am walking in the paths in which the Good Shepherd is leading me (Psalm 23:2-3), I need not yield to fear, for He is with me; His rod, and His staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4). Countless times in the Bible we hear the LORD, His angel, and Jesus saying ‘Fear not’ (e.g. Isaiah 41:10; Luke 2:10; John 16:33).
The “comfort” of the rod and staff is that they ward off enemies, but also keep me on the right path (Psalm 23:4). We have the ‘comfort’ of the Holy Ghost (John 14:26). This includes both direction and discipline.
The “table” is a place of feasting (Psalm 23:5). For the sheep, this is a plateau, previously prepared by the good shepherd. Cleared of noxious weeds, it is lush with the best grass.
There are both literal and spiritual applications of this concept for the believer. Just as the LORD provided manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:31), so He provides our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). Yet in the Bible He also feeds us with His words, and they are a delight to us (Psalm 119:103); ‘the words that I speak,’ says Jesus, ‘they are spirit and they are life’ (John 6:63).
Enemies (spiritual predators) can only look on when I am in the care of the Good Shepherd (Psalm 23:5). Our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, is pacing up and down, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Yet he can come no nearer than the Lord allows (Job 1:12; Job 2:6).
“Anointing” (Psalm 23:5) is salve for healing, and the application of oil to deter parasites. It is also grease for the rams’ horns, to stop them from battering each other to death! The Lord tends to our spiritual injuries, and daily applies the ministry of the Holy Ghost to our individual situations.
The “overflowing cup” (Psalm 23:5) speaks of the kind of medicine that the shepherd might administer to the sheep in times of chill. It is a metaphor for the abundance that the sheep finds when it rests under the good shepherd’s care. The concept of blessings ‘running over’ appears also in the New Testament, as a response to our obedience to Jesus (Luke 6:38).
The cup of Christ’s suffering, which he drank to the full (Mark 10:38; Mark 14:36), fills our cup with an abundant overflowing of spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3). Whatever we are suffering, He has been there already: rest in Him!
In the final verse, the sheep reassures itself that the mercy and love of the good shepherd have ‘got my back.’ David is saying, on our behalf, “my dwelling will always be with Him” (Psalm 23:6). This is a response of faith to all that has occurred so far, a response of confidence in the present, and a response of assured hope concerning all that is yet to come.
Let us pray (Hebrews 13:20-21).
(C) 1 John 3:16-24.
“This is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another” (1 John 3:23).
Before we look at the two prongs of this single commandment, we need to set the verse within its immediate context. The ones who ‘abide in death’ (1 John 3:14) are identified as those in whom ‘eternal life’ has no abode (1 John 3:15).
By way of contrast, the ones who “keep His commandments” dwell in God, and God has His abode in them (1 John 3:24). This takes us back to Jesus’ words in the Upper Room, in which He teaches us that we are indwelt by both the Father and the Son (John 14:23; cf. 1 John 1:3). Jesus’ abiding is elaborated in His ‘true Vine’ saying of John 15:4-5. As we unfold this mystery, we will also discover that the Holy Spirit is present with us (1 John 3:24).
1 John 3:16 is the beautiful counterpart of the more famous John 3:16. The instructions of this passage are rooted in Jesus’ sacrificial love. Our “laying down our lives” for one another begins with - and consists in - the ‘love in action’ of 1 John 3:17-18. This a theme taken up in James 2:15-16, and which Jesus graphically illustrates in His end-times discourse (Matthew 25:41-45).
‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ asks Paul in another context (2 Corinthians 2:16). The answer follows: ‘our sufficiency is of God’ (2 Corinthians 3:5).
We might be inclined to condemn what we see as our feeble efforts to fulfill our obligation to our brothers and sisters in Christ: but we draw not from our own natural abilities, but from the resurrection power of Jesus coursing in our veins (1 John 3:19-20). Ultimately, it is God who reassures our hearts – and that is where we begin.
In fact, we are empowered to exercise a holy confidence before God (1 John 3:21). We are enabled to obey God, doing those things which are pleasing in His sight - and because we have been made holy in Jesus, our ‘asking’ in prayer is in tune with His will, and therefore renders a good result (1 John 3:22). This is in fulfillment of the promise of Jesus (John 14:13-14), and stands in stark contrast to James 4:2-3.
So we come at last to our text (1 John 3:23). The commandment is in the singular, but consists of two prongs.
The first prong addresses the issue of belief, and was extremely important in the churches to which John was writing. There were those who denied various basic tenets of the Christian faith, and John was appealing for creedal integrity.
All these were classified as ‘antichrists’ by John. They were those who went out from the church, because they were not at all of it (1 John 2:19).
For example, there were those who denied that Jesus is the Christ, and ‘denied the Father and the Son’ (1 John 2:22-23).
Furthermore, John found it necessary to stress that ‘Jesus Christ is come in the flesh’ (1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7; cf. John 1:14). If He did not, then His incarnation becomes an illusion, His sacrifice devalued, His resurrection an unnecessary deception, and the efficacy of His blood rendered null and void. If that is the case then we are (to quote Paul again), ‘of all men most miserable’ (1 Corinthians 15:19).
In our days there have been those in both churches and universities who have argued that it is not necessary to believe in the virgin birth or the resurrection in order to be a Christian. Yet these are those who, unlike in John’s churches, are sometimes allowed to take high office.
The second prong of 1 John 3:23 is that we should love one another, as He gave us commandment. We are to “go on loving one another" (present continuous).
‘A new commandment I give unto you,
That you love one another as I have loved you,
That you love one another as I have loved you.
By this shall all men
Know that you are my disciples,
If you have love one for another’
(John 13:34-35; cf. John 15:12).
Finally, how do we know that Jesus has made His abode with us? Outwardly, by our obedience. Inwardly, God testifies to this reality through the Spirit whom He has given us (1 John 3:24).
(D) John 10:11-18.
In the fourth “I am” saying of John’s Gospel, Jesus appears as the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep (John 10:11). Thus He is made known to His sheep (John 10:14).
In John 10 Jesus castigated the Pharisees for their failures as the spiritual shepherds of Israel. The image was familiar in a pastoral society, and echoed the Old Testament (e.g. Jeremiah 23:1-4).
The teaching of Jesus is that He is the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep, and dies for His flock (John 10:11). This is in contrast to those who are not shepherds at all, but merely hired helps (John 10:12-13).
This self-sacrifice of Jesus is rooted in His relationship with the Father (John 10:15). He was aware of the Father’s love and approval as He prepared Himself for both death and resurrection (John 10:17).
Soon Jesus would lay down His life, and take it up again, by His own power. Jesus claims that He has this commission from the Father (John 10:18).
The Good Shepherd laid down His life for those whom He calls out of darkness into everlasting light. He is the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80:1), but His flock includes those out of every nation, throughout all of time, who respond to His call (John 10:16). He is calling us by name.