Today’s gospel begins with the saying, “It was winter, and the festival of the Dedication was being celebrated in Jerusalem.” For the Israel, the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple was a great and national one, celebrating its restoration of the worship of God after the Temple had been desecrated by the Syrians under Antiochus Epiphanes.
Now at the feast, Jesus, the Son of God is present at the Temple, in the midst of them who gather together to celebrate the day on which God’s Temple was rebuilt and their worship was restored, and on their return from their long captivity. And, they are asking the Son of God in God’s Temple on the day of the Dedication of the Temple to God, “How long are You going to keep us in suspense? . . . Are You the Messiah, the Son of God? . . . Tell us plainly.” And Jesus answers, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. And the works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe.” Jesus did perform miracles before them, but they asked, “What miracle, what works, will you perform so that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” (6:30) And Jesus did say about ‘who He is’, ‘Who His Father is’, but they are saying now, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” “You do not believe not because I do not speak plainly, not because I do not perform miracles, God’s works, but because you are not my sheep who listen to my voice and follow me.”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the King, but they do not know Him, they do not listen to His voice, they do not follow Him. Even He was in His Father’s Temple, His Father’s House, but . . . they did not recognize the Son of God.
The Psalm 23 is singing, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; . . . Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
The Psalm appointed for today is well known to us and much loved by us. It’s so lovely, beautiful, and even romantic. But, it’s not at all. It is calling upon us to answer the question, “Who is your King?” and, “Who is your Shepherd to know and trust and follow all the days of your life?”
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Look! There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! He is the Son of God!” (John 1:29-34) The gospel tells us, that the Good Shepherd is a Shepherd-Lamb of God who has come to His sheep, to their living conditions, and lived with them, and shared their hardness, even asking of their help and hospitality, becoming one of them, and becoming the least of them, and walking into the valley of the shadow of death, in order to deliver His sheep from the darkness and lead them to the life-giving waters, the river of the eternal life.
Jesus heard the voice from heaven at the Jordan river, saying, “You are my beloved Son.” The voice which He heard, is not just a voice letting Him recognize who He is, but also a voice letting Him do what He must do for His Father and for His people, and it is a voice letting Him walking the way He should walk. It is the voice coming from the Father, the Heavenly Shepherd, to the Son, the Good Shepherd on earth, becoming the Lamb of God.
Going up to Jerusalem, Jesus was walking ahead of His disciples and they were so amazed, and those who followed were afraid. “Listen! We, are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death; then they will hand Him over to the Gentiles; they will mock Him, and spit upon Him, and flog Him, and kill Him; and after three days He will rise again.” (Mark 10:32-34) He was walking ahead of them. The Shepherd was walking into the valley of the shadow of death ahead of His sheep.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23).” The Shepherd, the Lamb of God, fears no evil, . . . for His Father, the Heavenly Shepherd, would be with Him, His Lamb. He knew, His Father’s rod and staff would protect Him, even though He would walk through the valley of the shadow of suffering and death. He trusted in God whose goodness and love would follow Him all the days of even suffering and death. Because, the Son knows His Father as the Father knows His Son. Because, He knows and trusts, His Father who “spreads a table before Him in the presence of those who trouble Him. And Surely the Father’s goodness and mercy shall follow Him all the days of His life, and He will dwell in the house of the Heavenly Father forever (Psalm 23).”
The Good Shepherd is not a shepherd who sitting on a rock watching his sheep, or standing on the top of gate just looking at his sheep and just counting them back into the sheepfold. Instead, He Himself has become a one of sheep, to live with them, and to save, to protect, to lead and guide them. God the Heavenly Shepherd is not a shepherd who leaves His sheep in despair, in danger, in the dark valley, in the roaring waves, but, He is a Good Shepherd-Lamb who, becoming light, has come into the darkness to walk with them, and becoming rod and staff, to protect them, and becoming a gentle shepherd, to lead them besides still waters and make them lie down in green pastures, and becoming bread and wine, to prepare the table of heavenly feast for them just as Jesus fed five thousand at the field, fed his disciples at the last supper before his death, and at the shore after his resurrection.
And finally, as the book of Revelation tells us, in heaven, the Lamb of God sits at the right hand of the Father, the Heavenly Shepherd at the throne, and invite His whole people who are from every race, tribe, nation, and language, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands, and they all will sit with the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd, and the Father, the Heavenly Shepherd, and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Shepherd at the heavenly feast. And they will call out in a loud voice, “Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9-17)
Then, “Who are they, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands?”
They are the people who have come out of the great affliction and trial. They are the people who walked through the valley of darkness, but kept themselves in faith, in hope, and in love, listening to their Shepherd, trusting their Shepherd, following His voice. They are the people who in danger, in terror, in hatred, in anguish, in pain and sorrow, in hunger, in thirst, but having hope in their Shepherd and knowing to whose voice they should listen and trust, and doing what the voice commanded, “loving God and loving your neighbor.”
They are the sheep for whom the Good Shepherd, the Son of God, was sent by His Father, the Heavenly Shepherd. They are the sheep for whom the Good Shepherd died and resurrected, and now prepares the feast in heaven. They are the sheep who have come safely through the darkness, the valley of the shadow of death with God’s goodness and mercy revealed in the Good Shepherd, and they have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb. And they are the sheep who have dwelt in the house of the Lord, not made with human hands, but made with the flesh and the blood of the Lamb, the Good Shepherd. And now the sheep “are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev. 7:15-17).”
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep (vs. 10:14-15).” “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish (vs. 27-28).”
Just as God the Father knows His Only Son, the Lamb of God, and His Son knows the Father, the Divine Shepherd, Jesus the Good Shepherd knows His own sheep, and they know their Shepherd. And God’s Only Son lays down His Life for His sheep, to give them eternal life. This is what happened on the cross, this is what happened in the empty tomb, this is what the Psalm 23 is singing, this is what the book of Revelation tells us today. And, this is the good news for us today. God’s Goodness and Love revealed in the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd, will be with us who know and hear and trust and follow His voice. This is our hope and this our faith that we God’s sheep should hold fast all the days of our life.
Surely the Lord’s goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives. And we will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, Amen.