The Deepest Mystery of the Good Shepherd
It is the most amazing part of John 10 (The Good Shepherd Chapter). In fact verses 17-18 might be the most amazing 2 verses in the whole Gospel of John. I have been studying these 2 verses for years and I am still astonished.
Jesus said, "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father." (John 10:17-18)
Those verses start out looking like so many other verses. They tell how God "so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son" (John 3:16) And Jesus willingly came into this world in order to save us, to carry our sins to the cross and on the third day rise from the dead.
But look closer and there is an astonishing contrast. God the Father loves His Son Jesus. And yet Jesus must go to the cross where He would be forsaken. Jesus would cry out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" And yet in the moment of being forsaken He is loved. God the Father says, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased," (Matthew 3:17) and in Isaiah "Behold My servant!" (Isaiah 52:13)Jesus says, "the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life ..." (John 10:17)
His death was a death under a curse. And it was death under the judgment of the Law. And it was death with forsakeness and a cry of abandonment.
There is the contrast. Two truths in tension, looking like opposites. Two things seem to be as far as possible from each other, and yet they happen together. They are linked in eternity, and can only come together in Jesus. Set them side by side: "For this reason the Father loves Me ..." & "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
And not only do they happen side by side. Each one reaches its climax at exactly the same time. God the Father turned away from His Son forsaking Him; and at the same time the Father had never loved His Son so completely and so adoringly. "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down My life ..."
When Jesus went to the cross He was earning forgiveness and salvation for lost humanity, and that is what God the Father most deeply desired. He also went to the judgment of the cross with perfect faith. Jesus went with devotion to His Father, trusting the promises, believing the Father's love. He went with perfect faith, in the face of everything around.
This is the measure of perfect faith; for Jesus to believe the words and promises of God in the face of judgment and death; and to surrender Himself into death trusting those words and promises even while being forsaken. This is faith carried into the most extreme challenge, facing death and separation from His Father and still believing the words and promises. No wonder, "for this reason the Father loves Me".
So Jesus brought back all the promises of God, bringing them right into our place of separation. He faced the final enemy and died the death of perfect faith. He proved that the promises and blessings of God are there for us, even when we feel forsaken, and even when we have wandered as far away from God as we could go. Jesus the Good Shepherd came to our separation. He brought truth to dispel all the devil's lies, and He did so by taking our place, all so we could have His blessings and know that we are never forsaken.
Jesus said, "For this reason the Father loves Me," and brought the love of God to face down our every problem and doubt. He said, "because I lay down My life" and swept away every sin that could separate us from the love of God. He said, "that I may take it up again" and began to unravel even death, so we could even have victory over the final enemy. And He said, "This charge I have received from My Father" so we can know that it is an eternal plan.
Lord Jesus, thank You for Your victory over sin and death, that I can know I am set free to share in Your eternity. And thank You for Your faithful death, holding to the words and promises of God, that by Your victory, my doubts may be defeated, and I may walk with confidence that You are the Way and the Truth and the Life. Amen.
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Rev. Mark Willig
Pastor Willig is pastor emeritus of Friends in Christ Lutheran Church.