The Good Shepherd in Action
Drew Craig, Belfast, N. Ireland
The climax of that scene following the death of Lazarus, John chapter 11, is that divine eyes shed human tears! It was but a foretaste of the ‘strong crying and tears’, Heb. 5. 7, that were to be His lot. Amazingly, He then cries with a loud voice after prayer to His Father; ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ John 11. 43. With the hymn-writer, we might join in our worship now, ‘Death could not keep its prey, Jesus my Saviour. He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord’. This episode was a precious foretaste of the certainty of His own resurrection when He would become the firstfruits of a mighty harvest.
It is not surprising, therefore, that we find the good Shepherd as guest at the table of the united family in Bethany in John chapter 12. What a reunion that must have been! For a visitor to that supper, who was not familiar with the previous events, to be told that the man Lazarus, sitting there in perfect health and looking as he always had been, was, in recent times, dead and decaying for four days in a tomb would have been extremely difficult to believe. But this is a demonstration, however limited, of what abundant life in Christ brings. Not only satisfying in the present, but the assurance of being like Him and seeing Him as He is for all eternity, sinless and deathless. We listen to His own assurance, ‘Because I live you shall live also’. As we join in spirit in the celebrations in Bethany, we could say that it is not only a house of feasting, but also a house of favour; their Lord was present. This makes it a house of fellowship too; full family relationships have been restored. But soon it would be a house of fragrance! Let us observe it again as though we had been there, ‘Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment’, v. 3. There is every possibility that John, the recorder of the incident, and the other disciples were present. We should note verse 2, ‘Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat with him’, a clear indication that others, unnamed, were present. As they all eventually left the home that day, the fragrance that permeated their clothes would travel with them. This begs the question, how is it with us? Indwelt by the Holy Spirit, assured of the Lord’s continual presence, are we spreading abroad the fragrances of love, gentleness and goodness, to mention but a few of the graces available to us, as we walk and work in a polluted world?
We conclude this study with a brief reference to the following chapter 13. In one sense, we move from a consideration of the actions of the good Shepherd to that of the great Shepherd, Heb. 13, demonstrating a foretaste of His present ministry, washing the feet of His disciples. Recently, I have pondered the implication of verse 12, ‘So after he had washed their feet’. Twelve pairs of feet! How long it would take their Master to do this is uncertain, but possibly at least one hour, and on His knees! What devotion! I wonder, too, what the inner thoughts of the disciples were as they waited their turn. We certainly know Simon Peter’s reaction and the profound lessons we learn from it. But what of Judas? It seems clear from the context that he had his feet washed. Perhaps, as it took place, he did not fully realize the implications of what was to follow. It was only after receiving the sop, v. 27, that Satan entered into him and propelled him relentlessly to the betrayal of the One he had followed for over three years and, beyond the betrayal, to suicide. What an awful end! From the intimacy of ‘heaven’ in the upper room to the eternal darkness of a lost eternity!
Looking at this event, what practical lesson can we learn? We recognize that while the laying aside of His garments speaks of His humility and grace in incarnation, it surely directs our minds to the right hand of the Majesty on high where He ministers to us with intercession and advocacy; intercession for the frail ability of our humanity, and advocacy when we sin and truly confess it. There is, however, the underlying truth of cleansing from the defilements of the way on a continuous basis. We ask ourselves, what did their Master mean when he counselled, ‘If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should also do as I have done to you’, vv. 14-15? How can we in some way fulfil His command in this present day? As we reflect on all that He, the great Shepherd of the sheep, has done and is doing for us, perhaps we could begin by picking up the telephone, writing and sending a letter or knocking on a believer’s door and doing a little bit of ‘feet washing’.