Jesus Is The Good Shepherd

It’s below freezing outside as I write this, so it is with special interest that I notice John writes in chapter 10 verse 22 that it was winter. We don’t get many details like that in scripture, so the few that are included sound off like klaxons in the text, loudly declaring their importance. It was actually the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, a holiday that today we know as Hanukkah. We read in John that Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon, which was an open, roofed 45-foot walkway with double columns that were 38 feet tall. This was an important part of the temple for the Jews since it was one of the few remaining portions of the temple that was built many years earlier by Solomon.

I picture Jesus meandering through the columns, bundled up in his winter robes and snow sandals, perhaps thinking about the history of the building. The Festival of Dedication was so named in honor of the rededication of the temple after the Israelites rose up in rebellion against the Greeks. The Greek king had forbidden the Israelites from practicing their religion and tried to force them to worship Zeus. After the Greeks dared to offer sacrifices to Zeus in the temple, God’s people had had enough. They threw off the oppression of the Greeks and cleansed and rededicated the temple to God in 164 BC. They kicked off an eight-day feast with a proper sacrifice to God at the rebuilt altar.

Maybe Jesus thought about how the temple was the dwelling place of God among men before God came to his people in the form of a man, or about the plan he and the Father had devised to save and care for all their wandering sheep. Perhaps he was thinking about how he was nearing the end of his earthly ministry, about the fact that in just a few short months he would suffer the most grisly, agonizing, shameful form of death known to the ancient world.

My kids know that one of the easiest ways to make me lose my mind with anger is for them to ask me the same question over and over, and make me repeat the answer I’ve already given. So I can imagine his impatience when the crowd rushes up to him, all of a bother, interrupting his reverie, and demands, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (24). This is the point that my eye begins to twitch, right before full-on meltdown mode. But Jesus simply says, “I told you, and you do not believe.” 

Here is what is cool about this interaction, especially Jesus’ following remarks about how his sheep know his voice and follow him, and how he and the Father are one. This is one of the last public moments of Jesus’ ministry. From this point forward, he focuses more on intimate relationships with his followers and friends than with the crowds. Until, of course, he faces the crowd that crucifies him. As one commentary puts it: “But now, right next to the temple, at a feast commemorating the rededication of the temple, Jesus gives his clearest teaching about his own identity. It is this identity that is the grounds for his replacement of the temple as the place where forgiveness of sins is available and God is to be met.”

For the rest of eternity, there will be no more need for sacrifices on the altar for forgiveness of sin, because Jesus becomes that sacrifice. God will no longer dwell in the temple, but he will dwell within his people in the person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, predicting his own death, said in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus became the temple, as well as the sacrifice. The temple was just a building after all. 

If his knowledge of his impending death unnerved him, he didn’t show it because in verse 31, enraged by what they believe to be blasphemy, the people pick up stones to kill Jesus. But Jesus is filled with a “sovereign calmness that comes from being centered in God’s will, the will of the Father who is greater than all.” Jesus tells the crowd that he has been consecrated (36), similar to the temple whose dedication the people had gathered to celebrate. 

But the people still don’t get it. They have seen Jesus and heard Jesus; they have watched his miracles in awe and delight and confusion, yet still they do not believe. Jesus is not killed that cold winter day in Solomon’s colonnade. No, that dark day is still yet to come for him. But Jesus knows that these people are sheep in need of a shepherd, and a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, even when they do not believe, even when they hate him, even when they kill him for it.

As winter creeps sluggishly on around us, reflect on that winter long ago when Jesus walked in the colonnade. Consider that he may have been thinking of you, his beloved, for whom he was going to die. And then remember that in the spring, as the world begins to come back to life, Easter is coming.

Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass

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