Jesus laid down his life for us as our shepherd, in order to show us we must lay down our lives for others.
When man imagines God, he sees him carnally strictly in terms of his power and might. But when God manifested himself in the flesh, he came as a meek and lowly suffering servant. Isaiah foresaw Jesus as: “a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground.” (Isaiah 53:2). Therefore, he wonders if anyone would believe his report. The prime expression of God in Christ is not his power but his love. Thus, while others say God is powerful: the disciple of Jesus says God is love. (1 John 4:8).
Power is a key expression of the Law of Moses. This is often demonstrated through retributive justice: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Exodus 21:24). But Jesus reveals that force is not that powerful; but that love is the most powerful force of all. A man can put a gun to our head, and still fail to obtain from us our most prized possessions because they are kept in our hearts. But when we are overwhelmed by love, we give everything; holding nothing back.
Thus, God asks the believer in the confidence of his expressed love for us: “My son, give me your heart.” (Proverbs 23:26). We obey because we are overwhelmed by God’s love. John says: “We love him because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19).
How does Jesus love? Let us listen to him: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13). Therefore, we must love by laying down our lives for others. We must not fall into the Christian confusion that Jesus laid down his life to take away our sins. He laid down his life for us, in order to show us we must lay down our lives for others. The example Jesus says he set for us preceded Calvary; so this is not about Jesus dying for our sins on the cross. We lay down our lives for others by serving them.
The Good Shepherd
Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). Paul and his disciples have caused Christians to misunderstand this simple statement. A shepherd does not die for the sheep: he lives for the sheep. A dead shepherd is of no use to the sheep. But a living shepherd leads them to green pastures.
Jesus, the good shepherd, does not die for the sheep. Nevertheless, he gives his life for them. Jesus is talking here about the life of the shepherd and not about his death. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep in the sense that his entire life is devoted to taking care of them. Without a doubt, it is far more difficult to live for the sheep than to die for them.
Jesus’ crucifixion was a one-time event, but his priesthood as our shepherd is everlasting. Jesus remains our shepherd today and he is still giving his life for us. The enemy decided to kill the shepherd so that the sheep would scatter. (Zechariah 13:7); but God countered and neutralised this by raising him from the dead, never to die again.
As our good shepherd, Jesus should be emulated by his flock. How are we to follow him in the giving of his life? Is he asking for his disciples to be killed? No! He is asking us to love others by living a life of service. He says: “Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave- just as the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:27-28). Jesus is asking that we also give our lives as a ransom for others.
This shows the cross of Jesus was fundamentally his incarnation and not just his crucifixion. His cross was in laying down his life in heaven in order to come to earth as a man to show us the way of salvation. Jesus says: “My Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:17-18).
The “life” Jesus laid down was surely the spiritual, and not the physical, life. Jesus teaches that the physical life is inconsequential: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28). The physical life was taken from him against his will: “Not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42). But no one took his divine (eternal) life from him. He voluntarily relinquished it in heaven in order to take up a mortal life on earth. After his earthly death and resurrection, he took up again his heavenly life.
Love by works
Following this example of Jesus, we don’t love by faith. We love by works: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around doing good.” (Acts 10:38). “I don’t do anything bad to him.” That is not love. Do you do anything good for him? “No matter how hard I try, he just continues to insult me.” Don’t give up. Love does not stop to love. Jesus says: “When you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:10).
Someone wrote me and said: “My life seems to be without meaning. I don’t know God’s purpose for my life.” It is always impossible to know God’s purpose for us when we are self-centred. But once we concentrate on others, we have a purpose. Love is the greatest purpose of all, for God so loved the world. Our great purpose in every relationship is to love. So doing, we fulfil Christ’s mandate. God told Abraham: “I will bless you and you will be a blessing.” In every situation, we must position ourselves as a blessing. Our assignment in life is to serve others, even as Christ served the world.
There is so much pain in this world. This is a world of sin and of sickness. It is a world of trouble and of turmoil. Our role is not to add to the evil, of which there is a surplus. Our role is to add to the good, of which there is a deficit. If goodness and mercy are following us around, then we should have a lot of goodness and mercy to dole out to others.
John says: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:14-16).