Saturday, August 8, 2009

Lead On, O Shepherd

"The sheep hear his [the shepherd's] voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." (John 10:3-4)

If you've been around the church long enough, it will come as no surprise to hear that Jesus is our Shepherd. He says he is the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (John 10:14; 21:15-19; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:4). But what is remarkable is that our shepherd is also himself a lamb (John 1:29: Revelation 5:5), a human who meekly came and bore our low estate. He "wore the robe of human frame / Himself, and to this lost world came."* Jesus came in the flesh, took up our cause, battled against sin, death, and the devil, and triumphed over them all. Having suffered and been vindicated, he is now "the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Hebrews 5:9).

How astounding it is that now this Lamb is our Shepherd! But instead of some restful pastoral scene--as true as this is sometimes--we need to know that we are also enlisted into his army. The biblical imagery of a shepherd referred to a general-king who led his people out to battle and back in to worship and rest. And though our final rest is secured, we aren't there yet. This life is still a "struggle against sin" (Hebrews 12:4). We live between two ages in the tension where we have the Holy Spirit and are justified, yet we still sin (simul justus et peccator).

The two earliest forms of the Anastasis (Resurrection) icons depict this reality and give us good cheer and hope. The first (above) shows Christ, the Victor over death and sin's enslaving powers, drawing Adam (symbolic of all humans) from the grave toward himself. Salvation has been won and is now being offered. But to come to Christ, Adam must first pass under and embrace the Cross. He must trust in Jesus' finished work and have his old life put to death in submission to Jesus' lordship. This portrayal is decidedly baptismal. (I find it of note that even though Adam must embrace the cross is faith, the work in drawing him there belongs entirely to Jesus. Calvinism in the eight century!)

The second form (above) is quite different. Jesus is still holding the Cross and drawing Adam from the grave over the ruins of hell. But here Jesus is walking, even marching, forward. He's leading Adam out of death and into glory in "triumphal procession" (2 Corinthians 2:14).** As the "founder of [our] salvation," Jesus is "bringing many sons to glory" (Hebrews 2:10). This word translated "founder" is archegos, one who leads from the front, a "pioneer" or "captain." Jesus himself lived under sin, died our death, and now has risen in victory into life everlasting as King. He now conscripts us to share in his reign and follow him into all he has secured for us. We live now in tension: Will we endure in faith, or will we succumb to worldly pressures? Will sin ever be put to death within us? Will evil and sickness and malice and selfishness and unlove ever cease within and without?

Yes. Amen and Yes--in and through Jesus Christ alone, the Alpha and the Omega, who holds the keys to Death and Hades (2 Corinthians 1:20; Revelation 1:17-18). Our hope is sure and steadfast, because with Christ as our Shepherd, we're not left to wander aimlessly in the dark. He doesn't sit on the sidelines to cheer us on. He calls us, takes us by the hand, and leads us as he battles at the forefront, taking us where he has already gone. Lead on, O King eternal!

* "O Love, How Deep"; attributed perhaps to Thomas a Kempis.

** The idea of being led in a triumphal procession, however, is not all glory and honor. Roman military generals led their captives in a victory parade toward the Coliseum, where they would be put to death. Only we who have allowed ourselves to be conquered and put to death in Christ in this life will find life now and in the age to come.

1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Calvinism does get a couple things right. Though what you mention there is certainly not exclusive at all to Calvinism. :)

Amen to what you say here, Andrew. And good analogies in putting many things together for us as God's people in this world.

I do believe that part of the battle is to fulfill God's calling as his people in living out what we are as the light of the world, and the salt of the earth, in Jesus (from Sermon on the Mount).

We are blessed to be a blessing, elect or chosen to bring God's salvation through the living out and proclamation of the gospel by the power of the Spirit- to the ends of the earth.