The Good Shepherd
Greetings dear family of our Beloved Saviour Jesus Christ, may the Good Shepherd hold you lovingly in His arms. Amen. I thought I would do a series of letters on the many titles of Jesus. We know Him as The Good Shepherd, The Light of the World, The True Vine, The Rock and many more. I thought it would be nice to look at the significance of some of these titles, starting with The Good Shepherd:
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). The image of the Good Shepherd recalls a common theme from Old Testament prophetic literature. God’s people are the flock and Yahweh is their Shepherd. Jeremiah tells the people that the shepherds or pastors have led their sheep astray and that God promises new pastors who will graze their flocks properly (Jeremiah 23:1-6 also 3:15 and 10:21). Ezekiel complains to the pastors for their greed and neglect, saying that the Lord will take the sheep from them and care for them Himself, He will become the Shepherd of His flock (Ezekiel chapter 34). Jesus fulfils all that is spoken of in Ezekiel Ch34, He looks after the sheep, gathers up the strays, cures the lame and carries the weak on His shoulders (Matt 18:12-14).
The image of the Good Shepherd in Christian art dates back to the beginning of the church. This is known because images were found in the Catacombs of Rome, along with those of the Prophets and the Blessed Virgin Mary (The catacombs were used by the earliest Christians to hold Masses for the dead, the earliest record of these services dates back to 150AD).
In Jesus’ teachings He uses the image of the sheep that know His voice and follow Him. In those days it was common for a number of shepherds to gather their flocks together at nightfall into sheepfolds, and someone would be hired to watch over them. In the morning the shepherds would return, and each one would call to his sheep, the flocks would then separate and follow the shepherd to which they belonged whose voice they recognised. Jesus was using this image – one familiar to His listeners – to teach them that there will be a number of strange voices heard, but that they need to know the voice of Christ and follow it, as He is the Good Shepherd who is willing to lay down His life for them; He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
The parable of the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go in search of the one in danger, who is lost, is one of the most endearing parables in the Bible – that, and the Prodigal Son. Both of these parables tell us about the nature of God’s love – that it is both limitless and unconditional: The Shepherd goes out of his way to look for the lost lamb; The Father goes out to meet the Prodigal child. The Shepherd devotes the greater attention to the lamb in peril; The Father welcomes home his lost child and restores him to his former glory without any questions or conditions.
This is the mercy of God. Like sheep, we have all gone astray; like the Prodigal Son, we have all abused our position and squandered our inheritance. But our Heavenly Father does not punish us, but instead, He comes Himself as The Good Shepherd to lead us home; He comes to us as a Father to welcome us back, restoring our inheritance and sitting us at His right hand. We become His children once more, and heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven. Thank you Father! Thank you Jesus! Thank you Holy Spirit!
The Light Of The World
Seasonal greetings to our family in Jesus, we wish you all a blessed, holy and joyful Christmas. On Christmas Day we celebrate the most important event in the history of our world: God becomes man, takes on our human flesh and offers to us the opportunity to become children of God, to share in His divine life in a supernatural way. “To all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the power to become children of God.” (John 1:12) It is here that Jesus is given the title Emmanuel, meaning “God with us”. St John opens his Gospel with the following words: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was In the beginning with God, all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) These words clearly proclaim the divinity of Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God. It is from this that we are given another of Jesus’ titles, as He becomes “The Word Made Flesh.”
St John then moves quickly on to another theme: “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world” (John 1:9) Jesus becomes the “Light of the World” and through this light comes “grace and truth” (v:17). The image of light is found frequently throughout the Old Testament to designate the Messiah: the prophet Isaiah predicts a great light will shine for all those who walk in darkness (Isaiah 9:2). He tells us that a Son is given to us and that the government will be upon His shoulders, he also gives us some names by which Jesus will be known: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father” and “Prince of Peace”.
The prophet David also tells us: “The Lord is my Light and my Salvation” (Ps 27:1). And again “For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light do we see light.” (Ps 36:9) In the New Testament we see Zechariah; (Father of John the Baptist) who when filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:67) spoke of his child, John, being a prophet of the Most High (v:76). He then goes on to speak of how God will “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (v:79). When the prophet Simeon takes the child Jesus in his arms at the time of purification he reveals that Jesus is a “light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:25-32)
Finally, Jesus Himself tells us “I am the light of the world, he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). It is thought that He said this during the feast of the Tabernacles See (John 7:2). It was the custom of the Jews on the first night of the feast to fill the court of the women with the bright light of huge lamps which lit up the sky. This was a reminder to them of the bright cloud of God’s presence which guided the Israelites through the wilderness during the Exodus (Ex 13:21). Jesus was telling the people that He is the “Light” which they must now follow to be saved, not, as of old, from the bondage of slavery, when God led His people out of Egypt, but under the New Covenant that God had promised His people, that they should be freed from the bondage of sin that is in the world.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us give thanks to Jesus this Christmas, for not only have we come to know that He is The Light of the World, but we have opened our hearts to Him to let that light permeate our inner being. We have received His grace, and our souls have been nourished with His Word, and so that light lives within our hearts to radiate to the whole world.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)
The True Vine
Greetings dear family of our beloved Saviour Jesus Christ, may the good Lord fill our hearts with every grace so that we may always bear good fruit for Him.
Continuing the theme ‘the titles of Jesus’ we come to ‘The True Vine’. Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” (John 15:1) In the Old Testament there are several references where God’s chosen people (Israel) are spoken of as ‘The Vine’. In Isaiah’s Song Of The Vineyard, God complains that despite His love and care, His vineyard has yielded only wild grapes. (Isaiah 5:1-7) Jesus also made His complaints, but it was generally not the people that He was reprimanding but the leaders (the Pharisee’s). The Jewish people were still God’s chosen people at this time; many of them being very devout in keeping God’s law, and the first Christians were all Jews.
However, in saying “I am the true vine,” Jesus was telling them that the old chosen people would be succeeded by the new chosen people, the church, of which He was to be the Head. The Old Covenant had now been superseded by the New Covenant that God had promised to His people. Those who could not except Jesus as the Messiah are still bound to God under the Old Covenant (which is everlasting – Gen 17:19) and are to be considered our cousins in faith, it is hoped that they will join us in welcoming Jesus when He returns In glory accepting Him as the Messiah, and that we shall all be as one family once more.
Jesus also uses the image of the vineyard in His parable about the murderous tenants. (Matt 21:33-4) Here He was complaining to the Pharisee’s about the number of Prophets sent by God that they had murdered, and then they will also murder Him, the Son. This rejection of Jesus’ teaching will fulfil another prophecy: “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.” (Psalm 118:22 And Isaiah 28:16) – see also (Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:6 & 7). It is here that we get the title of ‘The Corner Stone’ for Jesus: the Corner Stone being the most important stone, the first one laid – upon which all others must build.
Jesus goes on to say: “Every branch of mine that bears no fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2) We note that Jesus said, “every branch of mine.” So we understand that both groups of branches were attached to Jesus, the Vine. Our Lord is speaking here about fellowship: that of those who, although still joined to the vine externally, yield no fruit at all and are cast out, and those who are united in deep fellowship and bear fruit, but could still bear more fruit. In order to produce fruit, which is pleasing to God, it is not enough to be baptised and profess the faith externally, a person has to be united to Christ, the Vine, through a living faith. Faith is a gift from God, but we have to make use of this gift: Remember the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14 –30). The parable ends with the words,
“For everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
We have to make use of all God’s gifts if we do not wish to lose them.
Through this union with the vine we feed on the “sap” of God’s grace allowing it to change our hearts. However, we have to cooperate with God’s grace, we have to open our hearts to be disposed to receiving it. True fellowship is found in this cooperation. In the next verse Jesus tells us: “You are already made clean by the Word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3) God’s Word cleanses us by instructing us (Titus 1:9) it purifies our heart of earthly affections, giving us a desire for heavenly things, (1 Peter 1:23) and it purifies us with the strength of faith. (Acts 15:9)
But it is not just hearing God’s Word that changes our hearts, we have to interiorise the Word and act upon it. St James tells us: “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourself.” (James 1:22) God’s Word can cleanse our hearts but only if we cooperate with the grace that has been freely given to us. Many people will hear God’s Word but still not allow it to change their hardened hearts because they are not disposed to receiving God’s grace.
People can also set up barriers to God’s grace that hinder their conversion, not allowing God’s grace to do its work within the soul. Such barriers can be pride, resentment, impenitence, or a lack of forgiveness towards others. Living in a state of mortal sin, such as a wrong relationship can also impede the work of grace (There is sin which is mortal and that which is not -1 John 5:16 & 17).
Jesus goes on to say “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” (John 15:8) What is the fruit that we must bear? The first fruit we need is the fruit of repentance: Before the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist prepared the way by instructing the people to “Bare fruit that befits repentance.” (Matt 3:8) He also said that “Every tree therefore that does not bare good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt 3:10)
Next, we must bear the fruit of virtue, with the aid of sanctifying grace, that we may become holy. (1 Peter 1:14-18) Although God asks that we be holy, we must have the sure and certain conviction that without the aid of His sanctifying grace we can achieve nothing – no matter how hard we try! Jesus tells
us, “apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit that we must bear:
“The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-25)
Without sanctifying grace the nature of man can become like the beast (our daily TV and newspapers prove this!) but with the aid of God’s grace our nature can be transformed into the divine. Our “salvation” is something more than the remission of our sins, it is the glorious work of God within the soul raising us up to share in His divine life (2 Peter 1:3 & 4).
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit.” (Luke 6:43 & 44)
Next, we have the fruit of good deeds: charity – which includes both corporal and spiritual works. Jesus puts great emphasis on this in the Parable of the Judgement, and the separation of the sheep and goats (Matt 25:31-46). Throughout the New Testament the Lord makes known to us that the greatest deed is to love one another, and no one puts this better than St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. We, who are ill, cannot go out into the world and do good deeds, but we can still perform the greatest deed of all by loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. We can also love our neighbour by keeping them in our prayers, these are the most important good deeds that anyone can do. If we continue in His love, then one day we will hear our Lord say to us, “Many sins are forgiven you because you have loved much.”
The Rock and The Bread Of Life
Greetings dear family of our beloved Saviour Jesus Christ, may this time of Lent be for us a time of inner
renewal as we contemplate the depths of God’s infinite love in Christ Jesus. Amen
Continuing the theme of Jesus’ titles, we come to “The Rock” and “The Bread Of Life.” Again, we begin with the Old Testament, as we cannot separate the Old Testament from the New, these two books come together to give us the complete picture. The Old Testament points to, and foreshadows, the New, and the New Testament is the fulfilment of the Old.
During the season of Lent we remember our Lord’s time of trial in the wilderness. Because our Lord had a human nature as well as a divine nature, He suffered hunger and pain and so could be tempted by the devil. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, this was to bring to our minds the 40 years that Israel spent in the wilderness. We know that Jesus ‘The True Vine’ had now taken the place of Israel, the Old Vine. As the people of Israel were tempted in the wilderness and failed God, so Jesus was to be tempted in the wilderness with the same temptations and be triumphant.
The first temptation the devil offered to Jesus was to turn stones into loaves of bread. (Matt 4:3) This was to correspond to the temptation Israel faced when they were hungry and complained to Moses. (Exodus 16:1-5) God gave them Manna to eat (A bread-like substance, miraculously produced). The second temptation that the devil offered to Jesus was to put God to the test by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple. (Matt 4:5-6) This was to correspond to the temptation of Israel to put the Lord to the test for water. (Exodus 17:14) Moses struck the rock at Horeb as God commanded, and water came forth. Later they called this place ‘Massah’ which means ‘proof’ or ‘test’, because they had put God to the test. The third temptation for Jesus was to worship satan and receive all the kingdoms of the world. (Matt 4:8-11) This corresponds to Israel being tempted to worship the golden calf (Exodus 32).
We see in all this that Jesus was to put right the failings of Israel, He was to fulfil Israel’s vocation in a perfect way, that vocation to be the light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). We see also that what took place in the wilderness was only a foreshadow of something greater to come. The Manna in the wilderness was a prefigurement of the Eucharist. As God nourished the bodies of the Israelites with the Manna, now He
nourishes our souls with the Eucharist. Jesus tells us,
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which came down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh…truly, truly, I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food in deed, and My blood is drink indeed.” (John 6:48-57)
The rock in the wilderness represented Christ; as the rod of Moses struck the rock to bring forth the life-giving waters, which were to save the people of Israel (Exodus 17:6&7) so Jesus “The Rock” was struck upon the cross and water came forth from His side, along with blood (John 19:34). This in turn, was to symbolise the Living Waters, the Holy Spirit, which Jesus would send into the hearts of His believers:
“Whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
St Paul refers to this miracle in the wilderness in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank of the supernatural Rock which followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” (1Corinthians 10:1-5)
We note that St Paul writes, “All were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” When Moses parted the Red Sea the people of Israel were saved by walking through the waters (Exodus 14:21-22) this was a prefigurement of Baptism, like Noah and his family in the flood 1 Peter 3:20&21.
Also St Paul referred to the cloud, this cloud which led the people by day, and the pillar of fire which led them at night, represents the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit led Israel into the wilderness, just as the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. (Matt 4:1)
If we look at the journey Israel took out of Egypt we see that they fled the fertile lands of the Nile Delta and crossed the Red Sea to the desert of Sinai. Jesus left the fertile lands of the Jordan Delta, crossed the Sea of Galilee and entered the deserted area of the Golan Heights. So the journey of the Israelites was also a prefigurement of the journey of Christ. There are many other prefigurements in this story, but I think we see enough to understand there significance.
Now as we see from the above that God’s plan of Salvation was thought out long ago, not only before Christ entered our world, but even before the world began, so God has a plan for each one of us, and that plan was thought out long before our birth – and also before the world began!
Through His infinite LOVE, Jesus, in becoming a man and overcoming the temptations of satan in the wilderness, has merited for us the GRACE necessary to overcome our trials when we are tempted by the devil. In taking our sins upon Himself and nailing them to the cross, He has merited for us the MERCY of God for those times when we fail to overcome satan. And in dieing and rising from the dead, Jesus has destroyed the power of death and merited for us ETERNAL LIFE. And so we see that Jesus has merited for us, LOVE, GRACE, MERCY AND ETERNAL LIFE.
Thank you Father, Thank you Jesus, Thank you Holy Spirit!
The Lamb Of God
Greetings dear family of our beloved Saviour Jesus Christ. We pray that you will all have a joyful Easter with renewed strength of body and soul. Amen.
This will be my last letter on the ‘Titles of Jesus’, when I shall squeeze in those not already mentioned. First we come to ‘The Lamb of God’: Upon seeing Jesus, John the Baptist told his followers, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) And St. Paul tells us that “Christ our Paschal Lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor5:7) We know that in the Old Testament God received many animal sacrifices from His people in atonement for sin. These sacrifices would be an offering up of part of ones wealth to God, a test of obedience, and an action that would reveal the generous nature of a person’s heart (whether that person would give the very best of his breeding stock to God or retain it for himself).
During the final days of Israel’s bondage of slavery in Egypt, God commanded Moses and Aaron to make a sacrifice of a young male lamb without blemish. (Exodus 12) The blood of the lamb was to be placed on the lintel and door posts of their homes and the flesh of the lamb was to be eaten. This was to prevent the final plague of Egypt from harming their first-born during, what God was to call, “The Lord’s Passover.” (Exodus 12:11) This night then became a festival of remembrance for the Jewish people, and it was at the remembrance of this Passover that Jesus held the “Last Supper” when He would give us the Eucharistic supper (Matthew 26). He was to be the male lamb without blemish (sin) who would give His life to deliver His people from the bondage of sin which is in the world. It was during this meal that Jesus was to speak of the New Covenant (Matt 26:28) this is the only time that Jesus would mention the New Covenant that He was to bring to His people.
God’s relationship with His children has evolved over time through a series of covenants, which He has made with His people. A covenant is described as a ‘formal agreement’ in the dictionary, but with God each covenant has been more of a family bond. The main covenants (there are other minor ones) are these: The covenant with Adam (this is a marriage covenant). The covenant with Noah (this is a household covenant, covering Noah’s house, the rainbow was the covenant sign).
The covenant with Abraham (This is a tribal covenant, which included the act of circumcision). The covenant with Moses (this is a covenant between the 12 tribes, a national covenant). The covenant with David (This is a National Kingdom covenant). And finally the covenant of Jesus, (an international kingdom, or world covenant, there now being no distinction between Jews and Gentiles). This is the covenant that opens the gates of heaven for all the faithful generations of God’s children to return to Him. Through these covenants we see how God’s relationship with His children has grown, expanding all the time, to eventually embrace the whole world.
From the above covenants there are two that have become very distinct: The Covenant of Moses, known as the “Covenant of the Law,” or the “Old Covenant” when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, and the Covenant of Jesus, known as the “New Covenant.” (Incidentally the Ten Commandments still stand today – although many people think they are now called the “Ten Suggestions!”). The main difference between the Old and New Covenant is how one lives out the covenant life: the Old Covenant is a covenant of law, the New Covenant is a covenant of faith.
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17)
By the Sacrifice of Christ, our Paschal Lamb, we receive the forgiveness of all sins – even our mortal sins. The only sin that Jesus says will not be forgiven is the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:31 & 32). Sin against the Holy Spirit is this: “Final impenitence” that is, to go to our death bed unrepentant and not accepting God’s forgiveness, or, if we ourselves claim that God will not forgive our sins.
Next, we come to The Bridegroom.’ This title speaks of the most intimate relationship between God and His creation. Jesus is the Bridegroom and we, the church, are His Bride.
Unlike many of the other names – especially the seven “I Am” names, the Bridegroom is not a reference to something from the Old Testament (although God does call Himself ‘the husband’ and ‘bridegroom’ of Israel) but it is rather the name given to a new relationship that comes at the end of time, therefore, it is found mainly in the book of Revelation. Here Jesus gathers His children and brings them to the “marriage supper of the lamb” (Rev 19:4) “Let us rejoice and exalt and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev 19:7). The Bride, the church, is described as the “New Jerusalem” (Rev 21:9) and “The Wife of the Lamb.”
Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom in (Matt 9:15). And in (Matt 22:1-14) He gives a parable about the kingdom of heaven being compared to a king who gave a ‘marriage feast’, but those who were invited made many and various excuses not to come. The parable also speaks of a man being thrown out of the feast who is without a “wedding garment.” See (Rev 3:18). Jesus also compares the kingdom to the ten maidens who took their lamps to meet the bridegroom. (Matt 25:1-13) The lamps are a sign of light; Jesus is the light of the world and if we remain united to Him we shall draw light from Him and also be a light for the world (Matt 5:14). St Paul tells his followers at Corinth that he has “betrothed” them to Christ, to present them as a pure bride to her one husband (2 Cor 11:1&2) and He goes on to warn them not to accept any other gospel, but the one of Jesus.
Jesus is the only “Door” (John 10:7) by which we can enter heaven.
Dear family, let us give thanks to God because we have found the “Pearl Of Great Price,” let us praise Him because we know the “Alpha and the Omega,” the beginning and the end of all things (Rev 21:6). Give thanks that we are protected by the “Lion of Judah,” (Rev 5:5) and that we look upon the “Bright Morning Star” (Rev 22:16). Let us praise God also that we have been shown “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:16) and that we shall receive the “Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).
Despite all these beautiful titles that God has been given and those of which He has chosen for Himself, I still like best the one which Jesus has given to us, that we might call upon in our time of need, that of “Father.” The Christian faith is the only one that has the fullness of God’s revelation, it is the only faith in which God has come personally to save His children, lived among them and died for them, and it is the only faith in which God Himself has become family. In the most Holy Trinity we have our brother, father and spouse.